Protecting Your Family’s Sleep and Energy Through (Another) Crazy Covid Winter

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It’s been a long couple of years dealing with the coronavirus in our lives. What’s happening right now in large parts of the nation and in other parts of the globe is a tough blow, as so many people in the US and other parts of the world face potential disruptions to our routines along with a lot of stress about the impact of the omicron variant on our health, our economy, our family finances. We’re all tired of the uncertainty and disruption and limitations that Covid has placed on our lives.

There’s so much we don’t know and can’t control about what will happen over the next weeks and months.  Let’s focus today on what we CAN control, and some simple, effective steps we can all take to protect our sleep and maintain the physical and emotional energy we all need to weather this difficult season.

My new book, Energize!: How to Go From Dragging Ass to Kicking It in 30 Days,  is all about using your body’s own unique biology—specifically your chronotype and your body type—to turbocharge your daily energy and sleep. Energize! is a roadmap for using chronotype and body type to optimize your energy. Together with my co-author, Stacey Griffith, a founding instructor at SoulCycle, we unpacked the latest science and developed customized daily routines for sleeping and movement, based on eight different combinations of chronotype and body type. 

Nearly all adults will find themselves in one of these eight combinations–we call them power profiles.  Most of us live out of sync with our chronotype, and without an understanding of our body’s metabolic needs and movement preferences, which are strongly linked to our body type. Both chronotype and body type are genetically determined, and there is simply no arguing with genetics: these misalignments in our daily lives drive exhaustion, low mood, and poor sleep.

Using your individual combination of chronotype and body type as a foundation for sleep and activity is THE key to unlocking your body’s energy stores, to powering up your body’s battery and keeping it charged–and supporting your health, happiness, and productivity–throughout the day, day after day.

Stacey and I also developed solutions for deficits in four main types of energy—resting energy, eating energy, moving energy and emotional energy–that we all must maintain to lead healthy, productive, emotionally vibrant and connected lives.

Right now, you might be facing a tough, uncertain winter. Here are four realistic, flexible—and most important, highly effective—steps you can take to sleep well and maintain your energy during another difficult Covid season.

Let your sleep routine help protect your emotional energy

How many times have you heard me say this: CONSISTENCY is the foundation of a healthy sleep routine. The more regular your sleep schedule, you’ll fall asleep more easily and rest more soundly over the night.  You’ll be sharper and have more energy throughout the day. And you’ll strengthen the very circadian rhythms that keep your sleep-wake schedule on track and keep your body functioning at its best.

Don’t overlook your sleep routine as a powerful mood protector. The consistency of your sleep has a tremendous impact on your mood. Sleeping on a regular schedule that’s aligned with your chronotype can help you stay positive, grounded, and emotionally healthy through challenging times like the one we’re in.

I’ve written in-depth about some of the latest research on how sleep routines can affect mood and emotional health. Here are some key takeaways:

Don’t forget, winter itself can be challenging for sleep routines. The short days and long nights of the season increase daily melatonin production, which makes us feel more tired and sluggish.  Hormones produced during daylight hours, including serotonin, decrease, with less of this sleep-and-mood-boosting hormone produced during the dark winter months. All the more reason to double-down on the consistency of your sleep schedule over the next few months.

Focus on your home sleep environment to enhance your resting energy

Keep bedrooms clean. I get it—the last thing you probably want to do right now is clean your bedroom. But it is a simple, tangible way to have an immediate and direct impact on how well you and your family sleep this winter. Keeping bedrooms free of dirt, dust, germs, and debris helps avoid irritating allergies that interfere with nightly rest. If you and your family don’t have allergies, a clean bedroom will still protect you from sleep-disruptive irritations to skin help you breathe better while you rest.

A bedroom that accumulates dirt, germs, and odor—from environmental dust and debris and also from our own sweat and the skin cells we shed overnight—will attract insects, including the much-dreaded bed bugs.

Perhaps most important right now, a clean bedroom is a sanctuary, a place to find peace, calm, and relaxation at the end of the day. A messy, cluttered bedroom, on the other hand, can be a real source of stress. Remember, stress—of any kind—elevates cortisol. To fall asleep with ease and to sleep soundly throughout the night, we need cortisol levels to follow their natural nightly rhythm and remain low at bedtime.

Here is my step-by-step guide to how to clean your bedroom for optimal sleep. It includes instructions for deep cleaning and daily cleaning.

Maintain a sleep-friendly indoor climate. Cold outside temperatures can create problems for indoor sleep environments. Running the heat constantly leads to dry air that can irritate the nose and throat, making you more likely to wake throughout the night. For bedrooms that run dry in winter, humidifiers can be a big help. Just remember to clean them regularly according to manufacturer’s instructions, to avoid any issues with mold.

Wintertime bedrooms that are too cold or too warm make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Remember, temperature plays a critical role in sleep. (Here’s what you need to know on the role thermoregulation plays in sleep.)

An optimal sleep temperature for most people is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Take as much care in avoiding an overheated sleep environment as you do in keeping your bedrooms warm. Piling on blankets and warm pajamas can easily lead to an overheated sleep space, and trouble falling and staying asleep. We are biologically hard-wired to lower core body temperature as part of progressing toward sleep. Keeping things too warm in your bedroom—and in the microclimate of your bed itself–can interfere with that important drop in body temperature, and keep you awake.

Here’s more on creating an optimal environment for sleep.

Lift up your eating energy (and supercharge your mental focus) with intermittent fasting

Why is NOW the time to consider a shift to intermittent fasting? It will boost your mental and physical energy, keep your immune system primed to fight illness, strengthen circadian rhythms that have a major influence over your sleep AND your mood. And it’s an excellent aid in maintaining a healthy weight.

If you’re anything like me (and a lot of other people), stress can make you want to eat more, eat differently, and eat more often. Combine the stressful, routine-busting reality of Covid and typical seasonal changes to appetite (winter carb cravings, anyone?) and that’s a recipe for eating throughout the day and into the night.

Studies show calorie intake goes up during the winter months. We also experience seasonal changes to our hunger hormones. Levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin go up in winter, while levels of leptin—the hormone that produces feelings of fullness—go down.

Lots of us crave more carbohydrates during the winter. Our increased drive for carbs during this season may have to do with carbohydrates connection to serotonin. Carbohydrates increase serotonin production, which drops during the winter. Our winter cravings may be our bodies attempting to elevate depressed winter moods.

Grazing throughout the day and snacking late at night is tough to resist in winter—and especially during a winter when we’re feeling exceptionally stressed and isolated from people and from the freedom to safely pursue the activities and routines that bring us pleasure, stimulation, and joy.

People are sometimes wary about intermittent fasting. They think it means starving themselves, or that fasting itself will just be too difficult. Intermittent fasting isn’t about depriving yourself of food. You can eat the same number of calories you otherwise would in a day. (Though most people wind up consuming fewer calories, without trying.) The difference is you’ll consume those calories within a shorter window of time, giving your body a break from constant digesting and giving it a chance to actually use the calories you’ve consumed for energy, rather than storing them as fat, which is what happens when we eat throughout the day and right up to bedtime—even if you’re eating a fantastically healthful diet.

The WHEN of eating, informed by both chronotype and body type, is the single most important daily dietary choice you can make—it is a transformational shift for both energy and sleep.

As for the difficulty in fasting itself? Research has shown that fasting actually increases levels of the hormone leptin, which signals fullness. Within a day or two of adopting and intermittent fasting routine, your body adjusts and appetite decreases.

Chronotype and body type are the keys to understanding our individual best times for eating throughout the day, and the ideal length of our eating and fasting windows.  

I’ve written before about the benefits of intermittent fasting for sleep and energy balance. And Stacey and I made personalized plans for the when of eating, based on chronotypes and body types, a focus of our book. 

Beyond its ability to shift the body into fat-burning mode, daily intermittent fasting—feeding over a duration of 8-12 hours and fasting for 12-16 hours (6-8 of those being sleeping hours) has a broad range of benefits:  

Every chronotype has different daily rhythms for hunger and appetite hormones, and different optimal times for eating throughout the day. If you know your chronotype and you’ve read my previous book, The Power of When, you’re probably familiar with those optimal eating times. (In Energize!, we give you all those details, too.)

If you don’t yet know your chronotype, take this short quiz:

And each body type has a different ideal eating window and fasting period.

  • Endomorphs (thicker types who tend to gain weight at the midsection, with typically slow metabolisms) gain the most energy from an 8-hour eating interval and a 16-hour fasting interval
  • Mesomorphs (with typically medium metabolisms) do best with a 14-hour eating interval and a 10-hour fasting interval
  • Ectomorphs (long, lean types with typically fast metabolisms) derive their optimal energy from a 12-hour eating interval and 12-hour fasting interval

A daily routine of eating and fasting is WAY easier than you think to adopt, and it provides an almost immediate energy boost, as well as delivering foundational benefits for physical and mental health, and restful sleep.

Use short bursts of movement to keep your energy flowing consistently throughout the day

Our daily energy levels fluctuate throughout the day, even in the best of times, when we’re well positioned to make choices that enhance our energy and health. For a lot of people, these are very much not the best of times. Energy dips can drag you down mentally and physically—even more so when you’re feeling exhausted and stressed and isolated. I wrote recently about how to use what Stacey and I call the “Daily 5×5”—five, 5-minute movement sessions spaced throughout the day—to keep you energized and resting well through the holiday season that just ended.

The idea that only periods of exercise improve health and build fitness, strength, and flexibility is a BIG myth we dismantle in our book. Stacey is an ultra-athlete who changed her body and elevated her fitness and strength to a new level after she adopted a routine of daily short workouts. Together, Stacey and I developed customized movement routines for all eight chronotype and body type combinations. Whether you’re a Lion, Bear, Wolf or Dolphin, with a slow, medium, or fast metabolism—we’ve got you covered with customized daily movement plans that include the best types of movement for your body type, at the optimal times for your chronotype.

One of the most powerful benefits of spreading movement throughout your day, in short periods, is that it keeps energy levels consistent. Five times a day, you’ll prime your body battery, keeping energy flowing steadily and avoiding the energy dips that can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining, especially when you’re under pressure or experiencing stress.

This winter, give yourself permission to let go of the idea that you must do 30-or 60-minute workouts. Set up a sustainable routine of five minutes of intentional movement, five times throughout the day. You can get your personalized plan for the types of exercise that suit your body type, and the optimal times for movement for your chronotype, in Energize!.

Finally, along with self-care, self-compassion is deeply important right now. These past couple of years have been tough on us all. Be gentle with yourself as you use these strategies to bring energy, calm, rest, and a sense of peace into your life.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!