There's a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. It deeply affects our body at a cellular level. Cognitively a lack of sleep weakens our focus and hinders learning. It hurts our ability to "play nice with others" as well. One study found that activity levels in the amygdala, our fight or flight center, were 60% higher compared to well rested subjects. Our immune system is also weakened, because regenerative functions do not happen. In this article from The Register, Dr. Matthew Walker says the cells we need to fight many cancers drop by 70% after one night with 4-5 hours of sleep! Lack of sleep also affects the body's capacity to control blood sugar which leads to weight gain and pre-diabetes. Keep reading to learn more about how lack of sleep impacts our minds, attitudes and health followed by tips on how to improve it.
The hippocampus is the part of your brain responsible for consolidating information from short-term to long-term memory. This includes all the information you learn in meetings, company announcements, industry news, etc. Our ability to generate insight from the connections our brains create is highly dependent upon this function. In one study they found that a single night of sleep deprivation impacted the capacity of the hippocampus to perform this function. They found significantly less activity in those who were sleep deprived and it resulted in poor retention rates compared to well rested individuals.
This means a lack of sleep will make it hard to gather the information during the day and prevent it from storing for long-term use!
This article from Live Science talks about sleep deprivation and the impact to selective attention, or our ability to focus. This is not surprising, as other studies have shown sleep deprivation to reduce the amount of gray matter in the thalamus. This is the region of the brain used for selective attention. The same study also showed a reduction in that of the hippocampus. This means a lack of sleep will make it hard to gather the information during the day and prevent it from storing for long-term use! It seems like this alone would be enough to push us to change some of our habits.
We all want to have the big idea or provide the answers in the meetings. How many of us are making it harder than it needs to be? We're working later, staying up late, studying, reading, and trying to force the answer to surface. Sufficient sleep leads to increase productivity, creativity and break through ideas. It's hard to believe that the easier way is a passive approach of just going to sleep!
As previously mentioned, a lack of sleep can result in a 60% increase in activity in the amygdala. It means you're 60% more likely to be fighting or running away from something! This is not a good state to be in while we're at work or at home. Since we like to believe we're superhuman, I'll give the benefit of the doubt. I'll assume we're able to maintain and suppress emotional reactions that damage relationships or affect our brand under this condition. How much more energy and willpower does that take? Is that where we want to spend it, so we could watch more Netflix?
It means you’re 60% more likely to be fighting or running away from something!
This article from Forbes talks about how successful people stay calm. The fifth headline on the list of how they do it says..."They Sleep". It goes on to say the ability to manage emotions and be calm under pressure has a direct link to performance. The same article also says 90% of top performers have this skill. This is not an innate strength and is available to anyone that wants it, will learn, and is willing to practice. I meet few people who don't have interest in being successful or being a top performer. This article is not about the longterm effects of stress, but it's worth saying that prolonged periods of being in fight or flight are not healthy.
Yes you can! We're talking about lack of sleep, but too much sleep can be an issue as well. In a study they found correlation between six or less hours and a 12% increased risk of death. They also found a 30% increase with nine or more hours of sleep. General consensus on the right number is between seven and eight hours. Recent data suggests some outliers are doing well with five to six, but it's not the norm. There's plenty of data to suggest quality of sleep and overall health play a big part in this equation. A day with a strenuous workout requires more time for the body to repair etc. A healthy body with less inflammation will need less time for recovery.
In a study they found correlation between six or less hours and a 12% increased risk of death.
What about our immune system and sleep? A study from 2012 concluded that sleep deprivation reduces the white blood cell count. Since white blood cells are responsible for fighting off infection it follows that we're more susceptible to being ill if we do not get enough sleep. Yet another study showed a correlation between sleep deprivation and reduced levels of glutathione. Glutathione is the master antioxidant produced by the body. Antioxidants are not just a catchy word to get you to buy pomegranate juice. They reduce oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress causes inflammation which correlates to a long list of issues ranging from Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease and more!
In summary, sleep deprivation is very bad! It hurts our capacity to learn and retain knowledge as well as generate insight. We lose our ability to be calm and collected and therefore make the best decisions when the time comes. Our health and overall life expectancy is at risk without enough sleep. So what can we do about it?
I struggled to sleep well for many years. My wife would pass out before her head hit the pillow, but I would flip back and forth like a hamburger on a grill. Once I committed to making a change, I was happy to find plenty of information. Do some googling and reading, but here are some things that worked for me.
Hacking sleep is a common area of focus with my clients and having personally conquered this I'm all too happy to help other do the same. Setup an initial consultation with me and let's get to work!
Consider using Bullletproof ® Sleep Mode which uses a plant-based bioidentical form of melatonin. Unlike other supplements out there that use higher doses, Sleep Mode is sized to not cause unnatural spikes in the body after use.
What did you eat last night or this morning? Will you have the focus and energy you need throughout the day? Will your todo list grow or shrink? Even health conscious eaters may be shooting themselves in the foot. I frequently see common patterns with my clients that hinder them from consistently being in a high performance state. They suffer from brain fog and can't regularly get into that high energy mode. I continue to find three things working against them. They're not avoiding brain fog foods. There are not enough high energy foods in their diet. Finally, they're not using supplements to cover the gaps. There's new data and helpful practices like intermittent fasting, the keto diet, and more that are worth learning about. Whether you have bonuses dependent on tough deliverables or ambitious goals for your career or life, you can't afford to not read this!
Recent studies have found found links between low grade inflammation and brain fog. Additional data shows that most everyone has reactions to sugar, gluten, and dairy. For some it's severe, and for others it's mild, but it still causes inflammation. I personally had to change my diet to address auto-immune issues. As a bonus I no longer had headaches, my energy levels increased, and my focus and clarity of thought became higher and consistent. I've since connected with many others with similar experiences and frequently read about more. Unfortunately, there's a lot of foods on this list that are considered "ok" that people really enjoy. I advise committing to giving up all of it for at least six weeks, but push for ninety days. Record energy levels, ability to focus, mood, headaches, and anything else you want to add. Keep it simple and use a 1-10 scale with 10 being awesome!
Please keep in mind that the diet of what we eat matters, so avoid grain fed beef, farmed fish, etc.. They tend to eat junk to fatten them up to increase profit. If this is is not possible, then try to make sure it's the leanest cut you can get, because the junk ends up in the fat. Remember, being in a high performance state requires us to fuel ourselves properly, so avoid these foods.
As a bonus I no longer had headaches, my energy levels increased, and my focus and clarity of thought became higher and consistent.
To adopt a specific diet that will keep you on the right path, I would consider reading one of the following. The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey, Eat Fat Get Thin by Mark Hyman MD, or the Whals Protocol by Terry Whals MD. Terry Whals beat MS by changing her diet alone, so that's worth a read in general. Here's an article from the Huffington Post that offers some non-diet ways to combat brain fog for additional benefit. We'll never beat brain fog and achieve high performance if we can't stop bombarding our body with these foods, so make a commitment to test it for yourself.
Not all food is created equal in regards to nutrition. The goal of eating is not to be full, but rather to provide us with the nutrition we need to live and perform. Our bodies are very resilient and will find ways to make something work for periods of time, but this usually comes at a cost. Can we "live" on burgers and fries, it depends on what you mean by "live", but generally speaking yes. Will you feel great, be in a high performance state, and be able to solve complex problems or create innovative solutions? Most likely not. That said, what foods will provide us with high levels of energy? The three diets mentioned earlier are different forms of a keto diet. A keto diet avoids carbohydrates and glucose. This causes the body to break fatty acids down into ketones which are used for energy.
There are many benefits from a keto diet worth mentioning, but we'll start with energy. Ketones are more efficient than glucose and is why the need to snack frequently goes away. Ketones also promote increases in energy producing mitochondria in the brain. Along with this they also reduce oxidative stress in the body, reduce inflammation, and neural protection which becomes more important as we age. Of course always talk to your doctor, but research the keto diet on your own (Avoid Adkins...it does not focus enough on quality). Here's an article from Scientific American discussing some of what I've mentioned here and more. Regardless if you're on a keto diet or not, there are common foods that show up on many diets worth mentioning. Remember, high performance needs high quality food!
High performance is much more than a strong will and determination.
Here's some additional reading from Mark Hyman on Energy, Mitochondria, and Oxidative Stress. In this article Mark goes deeper into the science behind what happens when we pump empty calories into our bodies. The short and sweet answer is we have low energy, age faster, and suffer from a wide range of disease and health issues. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and get informed, make a change, and find new levels of energy you did not know were possible.
Vitamins and supplements are more important than they have been in the past. One of the biggest reasons behind this is related to mass production of food and the depleted soil we have in the United States. The food we eat today is not the food our grandparents were eating. I've always been surprised, when traveling in Central America, about the difference in size between the produce and animals versus here in the US. When I was younger I would have believed we had superior processes and therefore product, but now I know it's because that's how produce and animals are supposed to be naturally. They can't afford to feed the animals the crap that fattens them or spray the chemicals all over the produce, so they don't.
Most people walking around are deficient in Vitamin D and Magnesium. Vitamin D is critical for bone strength, hormone regulation, immunity, and countless other things. Magnesium deficiency can cause heart related issues, metabolic syndrome and more. Vitamin C is important for immunity, collagen production (healthy skin), and is used to produce glutathione (the master anti-oxidant). You may want to consider blood tests to see exactly where you are and measure over time. If you're focused on being high performance, you want to make sure you're not deficient first. Here's a list of supplements you should be taking.
The food we eat today is not the food our grandparents were eating.
I would read more about the various reasons we need supplements in Dave Asprey's post on this topic. For a more complete list of supplements to consider, I would also read Dave's post about what he considers most important, the reasons why, and the dosages.
Brain fog is not a random thing that just happens. High performance is much more than a strong will and determination. We all want to crush our goals and be successful, so give yourself an advantage! Avoid foods that cause inflammation. This will allow your body and mind to focus on being productive instead of undoing the damage from a poor diet. Whether you switch to a keto diet or not, do not feed the body empty calories. There's plenty of overlap with foods between low fat Mediterranean diets and keto that provide high energy. They both push lots of vegetables, healthy fats, and moderate levels of protein. Regardless if you're on a keto diet or not, make sure the source and quality of the food is high. Avoid mass produced, non-organic, etc... Lastly, start taking supplements and spend some time learning why you need to.