sleeping man hitting snooze on his phoneHey folks! Erin is here for another round of Ask a Health Coach. If you’re sleep-compromised, stressed out about carbs, or you’re a chronic snooze button pusher, today’s post is for you. Keep your questions coming in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group or share them down in the comments section.

Alicia asked:

“I’ve been trying to get up early to exercise, but I always end up hitting the snooze button and falling back asleep. Got any tricks to get myself up on time?”

I love that you’re setting goals for yourself. It proves that you don’t have to wait until New Year’s or (another) Monday to make a change in your life.‘>4

1. Minimize screen time. If you need to use a computer, tablet, or phone in the evening, wear blue light blocking glasses or set devices to the “night shift” setting. Artificial light can mess with your circadian rhythm and therefore your sleep cycle.

2. Avoid that late-night drink. A glass of wine or cocktail might help you fall asleep faster, but it can disrupt your REM cycle, leaving you drained, groggy, and likely a little hungover the next day. Alcohol also relaxes the muscles, including the ones in your throat, which might cause you to snore more — or snore louder.

3. Keep your phone out of the bedroom. In addition to the aforementioned blue light situation, scrolling right before bed can lead to weird dreams and stressful fits of sleep. Plus, if you’re one of those people who checks email or social media the second you pop open your eyes, it might be worth exploring taking a break from that routine.

And if these don’t move the needle, consider getting in touch with a medical professional or health coach. Some Primal Health Coaches even specialize in sleep.

Marcelle asked:

“I’m stressing out about the carbohydrates I ate over Thanksgiving. I know a lot of people gain weight around the holidays, but I’ve been working so hard to keep it off. What can I do to off-set all those extra carbs?”

The holidays are always stressful, and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, this year is no exception. But the extra pressure you’re putting on yourself for what you ate? Why do that to yourself? Adding stress on top of stress only makes your adrenals work harder, encourages your body to pump out more cortisol, and forces your body to store more fat, which if my hunch is correct, likely sends you into a spiral of worry, guilt, and shame.‘>6

Also, since when are carbs a whole food group? I don’t know who needs to hear this, but carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in nearly every food, including, but not limited to almonds, apples, asparagus, broccoli, beans, cauliflower, carrots, mussels, oysters, yams, and yogurt.

Even if you served yourself up a plate loaded with meat and veg, you haven’t actually skipped the carbs. If you decided to skip the pumpkin pie with whipped cream and have fresh berries instead? Still carbs. If you passed on dessert altogether and poured another glass of wine? Still carbs.

We tend to criminalize these large subsections of foods — sweeping them all into one bucket. But not all carbohydrates are created equal and, honestly, not all of them are bad. When you become metabolically flexible, you can partake in any kind of food your heart desires and have the peace-of-mind that your body can handle it.‘>1 Numerous studies confirm that once you activate the shallow, reactionary brain function in the frontal cortex with a smartphone engagement—especially first thing in the morning when you are locking habit patterns into place—it’s difficult to transition into high-level strategic problem solving mode.‘>3 When work gets either challenging or boring over the course of the day, you are hard-wiring a reliable method of escape into the realm of instant gratification and instant relief from cognitive peak performance. As detailed in the excellent book by anti-sugar crusader Dr. Robert Lustig called, The Hacking Of The American Mind, we are chasing the dopamine high today like never before. We are doing this in assorted ways that are strongly driven by marketing forces behind Internet fodder (social media, pornography, click bait, and even email and text messaging), prescription drugs, street drugs, alcohol, processed sugar products, overly stressful exercise patterns,consumerism, and other sources of escape and instant gratification.

As a healthy living enthusiast reading this blog, you can acknowledge the great sense of self-satisfaction and peace of mind that comes from implementing self-discipline and persevering through challenges and setbacks to achieve meaningful goals. These behaviors stimulate the serotonin and oxytocin pathways in the brain, triggering feelings of contentment, connection and love. Bestselling author Mark Manson asserts that self-discipline is a key to a happy, fulfilling life.‘>5 Direct sun exposure in the morning (no sunglasses, no window barriers) triggers a spike in energizing and mood elevating hormones like serotonin, cortisol and adenosine. Kick starting these sunlight-driven hormonal processes is actually the first step toward getting a good night’s sleep, as you will optimize the timing of the evening conversion of serotonin to melatonin to help transition into sleep.‘>1

The bottom line: your liver prefers smart fats like avocado oil, butter, lard, fatty fish, and olive oil over industrial seed oils.

Reduce Refined Carb Intake

The real danger of refined carbs is that they tend to be nutrient-poor. They’re basically just pure starch (or sugar). All the energy, none of the micronutrients required to metabolize that energy.

Your liver works hard to convert carbs into glucose that your body can use. When you don’t use the glucose in your blood, it gets stored in the liver and skeletal muscle as glycogen, and if you have excess after that, it gets stored as body fat. With refined carbs, it’s easy to get there.

Studies show that carb overfeeding, especially with fructose, can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,‘>3

Here’s where dosage matters. The more you drink in a given allotment of time, the higher the liver burden. Your liver doesn’t metabolize ethanol all at once. It’s an ongoing physical process. It takes time, and glutathione. Glutathione is also a physical material. You need more substrate, like glycine and cysteine, to produce it. Without enough glutathione (and there’s never enough if you drink too much), your liver will incur damage and develop fat.

If you’re going to drink, do so sparingly, choose healthier drinks, and practice good hangover prevention hygiene. High linoleic acid intake, for example, mixes terribly with alcohol; a much better choice is something saturated like beef fat or cocoa butter.

Stop Overeating, and Lose Weight

The number one risk factor for getting a fatty liver with impaired function is gaining excess body fat. Don’t get fat. If you are fat, lose it. Losing weight is the number one risk factor for losing a fatty liver.

Figure out what type of diet helps you eat normal amounts, and then go follow that diet. For most of my readers, it’s a low-carb Primal or keto approach. For others, it’s full-on carnivore. And yes, there are some for whom a moderate or even high carb diet works best. Whatever satiates you is the one that will improve your liver function.

Overeating fat especially can be bad, because the extra fat doesn’t need to waste any extra steps becoming available to your liver.

Practice Time-restricted Eating

In mice fed a typical soybean oil-fructose-based lab diet, the “high-fat” kind that reliably plumps up their livers, switching to a shortened eating window eliminates the metabolic fallout. They don’t get fat, they don’t get insulin resistant, and, most importantly, they don’t get fatty or dysfunctional liver.‘>5 Amazing how that works.

Fish oil isn’t the only option. In fact, eating actual seafood is ideal because in addition to the omega-3s it also provides micronutrients and macronutrients that enhance liver function. If you’re not a fish eater, supplements can fill in the gaps.

Eat Yolks and Other Choline Sources

Choline protects against fatty liver by providing the backbone for VLDL—the particle the liver uses to transport fat out  into the body. Without adequate choline, you can’t make enough VLDL for transport and the fat tends to accumulate in the liver.

Egg yolks are the best source of choline.

Take NAC

In patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, taking NAC every day for three months improved liver enzyme levels and overall liver function.‘>7

Whey boosts glutathione levels and provides methionine, which the body can convert to choline when deficient.

Try Vanilla Coconut Primal Fuel, made with whey protein

Regularly Deplete Your Liver Glycogen

De novo lipogenesis, or the creation of fat from carbohydrate, is a hallmark of fatty liver disease.‘>9 A few of my favorite ways to deplete glycogen:

  • Train hard. I like HIIT, higher volume lifting, and sprints. Or my personal favorite: Ultimate Frisbee. Not all at once.
  • Fast. Fasting is a reliable way to burn through available liver glycogen.
  • Reduce carbs. Going low-carb or keto is a reliable, if slightly slower way to burn through your liver glycogen.

Get Good, Regular Sleep

Certain molecules responsible for clearing liver fat operate according to a circadian schedule.‘>1)

A single sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, during which you move from light sleep, through stage 2, into deep SWS, and back up to REM. Then down you go again, then back up, ideally at least four of five times per night.

Your sleep is also roughly broken into two phases over the course of a whole night. In the first half, you spend relatively more time in SWS. The second half is characterized by a higher proportion of REM sleep.

What does this have to do with nighttime waking?

One possible explanation is that as you transition into lighter sleep either within a single sleep cycle, or as you move from the first to the second phaseaches, pains, and small annoyances are more likely to wake you up. These can include medical issues like chronic pain, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or GERD. Soreness from the day’s hard workout, noise or light from your environment, hunger, thirst, or being too hot or cold might rouse you from your slumber.

If you’re waking up multiple times at night, chances are that you’re experiencing physical discomfort that you’re not able to sleep through. Sometimes it’s obvious, but not always.

Was It Something You Ate Or Drank?

While individual studies have linked sleep quality to diet and macronutrient intake (high versus low carb, for example), they are mostly small and the results inconclusive.‘>3

  • Try eating your last meal earlier if you’re waking up with indigestion, or later if you’re waking up hungry.
  • Try a teaspoon of raw honey before bed

    One hypothesis is that you’re waking up in the middle of the night because your brain gets hungry for glucose eight hours after your last meal. The honey provides some carbs to get you through.

    There’s no concrete evidence for honey as a sleep aid, but plenty of people swear by this remedy. I’m not sure it’s likely to be more effective than eating a serving of complex carbs at dinner. That said, even for low-carbers, I don’t think there’s any harm in trying.

    I’ll note, though, that fasting studies don’t show a link to sleep disturbances.‘>5

    Anthropological evidence confirms that some modern-day hunter-gatherers around the world likewise engage in biphasic sleeping.‘>7

    Scholars argue that biphasic sleep confers an evolutionary advantage.

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