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Sober October: Sleep Hygiene and Circadian Rhythms

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

This is our four-week series for eliminating (or minimizing) alcohol intake during the month of October in preparation for the upcoming holiday season and all its indulgences.


Whether you're just now joining Sober October or finished weeks 1 and 2 with us, week 3 is focused on sleep hygiene and circadian rhythms.

Modern life is demanding. With the abundance of technology at our fingertips, we have access to 24/7 entertainment and information, which can be tough to disengage from with our "monkey minds." On top of that, many of us have jobs that can slowly creep into our personal lives via the same ever-present technology.

This week we will continue to look at our schedules, like we did in week 1, to find the most agreeable way to put up boundaries for our physical and mental health. Only this time, our focus will be on what is arguably the most important—and most overlooked—aspect of fitness and wellness: sleep.

Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep habits (aka sleep hygiene) can be tough to establish. Like any habit, it takes time and dedication before automation kicks in. The importance of regular, high-quality sleep cannot be overstated. In fact, much like a poor diet, you cannot out-train bad sleep. Let's look at some ways to improve your sleep hygiene!

Get Exercise

This one should be easy for you! You're already a gym member, so you're probably moving. Make sure you're getting sufficient movement during the day, whether you're officially exercising that day or not. Keeping active during the day keeps energy usage up, making the evening wind-down that much more easy to adhere to.

Avoid Consumption Before Bedtime

You're already eliminating alcohol with Sober October, but what you might not have known is alcohol actually disturbs deep sleep. Just another reason to kick the nightcap habit! Because your body is busy metabolizing alcohol, your deep sleep lessens and REM sleep increases. This results in lest restful sleep. In fact, alcoholics often report suffering from insomnia—this is why. You can read more about alcohol's effects on sleep here.

You also want to avoid big meals before bedtime. Similar to metabolizing alcohol, when your body is funneling resources to your digestive system, your body is working, not resting. Try to time your last meal of the day so it is finished at least 2 hours before bed, then work your way up to as much as 4 hours before bed. Bonus: Experiencing true hunger again in the morning!

And of course, avoiding caffeine in the evening is also key to good sleep. Even if you're one of those people who can drink an espresso and drop right off to sleep, the quality of the sleep you're getting is not top notch.

Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Haven

Your bedroom should be a place you're looking forward to sleep in. Take a long, critical look at your feelings about your bedroom. If your gut says, "Get me out of here," make improvements! Get everything out of your room that is not related to rest. Invest in bedding that looks and feels great. Is your neck killing you every morning? New pillows, like these, can make a huge difference. What about your mattress? When's the last time you flipped, rotated, or replaced it?

Take a look at lighting as well. Bright overhead lights are great for morning, but tableside lamps and dimmable lights are better for your evening routine. Don't forget your windows. Whether it's the long summer nights or those first crazy early sunrises, depending on when you retire and rise, make sure the sun is not distubring your sleep. Get the right window coverings for your bedroom.

Another important aspect of a sleep-friendly bedroom is temperature. Humans sleep better at cooler temperatures. Take the thermostat down to a cooler temperature about an hour before bed. Experts recommend an optimal sleep temperature of 65 degrees!

Ditch the Devices

No doubt you've read dozens of articles on this topic, but it bears repeating: turn off your devices at least an hour before bedtime. The "blue light" emanating from televisions, tablets, and smartphones has a disruptive effect on your brain activity, confusing your circadian rhythms (more on this later). While it might be easy to doze off while scrolling Instagram or bingeing The Office for the 15th time, it is resulting in less restful sleep. Instead, devise a wind-down routine that involves something other than electronics, like stretching* or reading a book.

Wind-Down Routine

Now that you know what you should and shouldn't do, come up with a schedule that works for you where you are still getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Here is one idea...

6:00 PM

Prepare and eat dinner

6:45 PM

After dinner walk

7:15 PM

Watch TV with family

8:00 PM

Dim household lights and lower bedroom thermostat

8:50 PM

Dress for bed, brush teeth, wash face, etc.

9:00 PM

Get in bed with book

10:00 PM

Lights out and sleep

Evenings are usually pretty nuts, especially for families with school-aged children. When making an evening routine that's respectful of our jobs, our families, our workouts, and the wind-down routine we need, most of us need to look elsewhere in the day to free up time we need in the evening. Using advance meal prep, slow cookers, and pressure cookers are great ways to add time back to your evening.

Bear in mind that you might need more than one evening schedule. Maybe your kids have activities a couple times a week. Maybe you have evening classes you want to attend at the gym. Just because your schedule isn't consistent every day of the week doesn't mean you cannot find consistency on those special schedule days.

Keep tweaking over time. Don't forget to leave ample time between dinner and bed, and don't forget to get enough walking and stretching throughout the day.

Circadian Rhythms

The below material is summarized from a thread by @cookwithchris.

We know that getting healthy and staying healthy involves exercise and diet. The truth is, eating healthy and exercising simply isn’t enough for us to perform at our best. You need rest of sufficient length and quality for your body to repair itself every night, no matter what your fitness goals may be. We can "hack" our sleep using all the strategies discussed above, but we can also take it one step further by working with our circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm is our body’s internal 24-hour clock. Almost every single animal on planet earth has these clocks, as they are encoded in our DNA; and almost every single gene, hormone, and brain chemical shuts on and off at different times of the day. When these rhythms are thrown off, like if we stay up late watching TV, we feel terrible the next day.

If we continue to disrupt this rhythm for weeks, months, or even years, it can wreak havoc on our metabolic health, gut health and cause many chronic diseases.

Translation: You cannot focus on exercise and diet while neglecting sleep and expect to improve or maintain your health.

Similar to how your brain needs sleep at night and is high functioning during the day, every other organ has its time for peak performance and rest. This affects your sleep, mood, metabolism, and even gut microbiome.

The neurons in your eye have a blue light sensing protein called melanopsin. These neurons are hard wired to our brain, and our circadian clock. These neurons are much less sensitive to dim, orange light. This is why blue light blocking glasses typically have an orange color. This is also why softer, warmer lights, like candles and salt lamps, are great sources of light at night. Melanopsin is not activated from this type of light, sending signals to our brain that it’s dark outside. This will cause the brain to produce melatonin and help us get a good night’s sleep. Blue light, on the other hand, fully activates melanopsin.

This is why going outside first thing in the morning synchronizes your circadian clock, reduces sleepiness and depression, and increases alertness. (Do not rely on artificial blue light for this.) In today’s day and age, we spend a majority of our time indoors. Most of us do not get proper sunlight early in the morning, and have artificial blue light in our eyes until bedtime. This sends signals to the brain that it is not night time, so we produce less melatonin.

This can lead to decreased glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and even increase the risk of diabetes, making it one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to weight loss. However, light is not the only thing that can affect our circadian rhythm: food plays a major role as well.

When we first wake up, our body is primed for digestion. If we eat too soon before bed, our body is digesting food when it should be repairing itself. This is what a lot of people that do intermittent fasting get wrong.

Some ways to fix your circadian rhythm:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day as much as possible.

  • Sunlight immediately upon waking up, before any artificial light. (This is where your morning walk is very handy. Also, if you are very SPF-conscious, don't apply SPF until after your initial sunlight exposure in the morning.)

  • When the sun goes down, use blue light blocking glasses, and low, warm light only.

  • Eat upon rising.

  • Don’t have a big meal within 2 hours of bed time.

  • Avoid caffeine 12 hours before bed.

  • Use red mode on your phone. (On iPhones, Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text > Color Filters > On > Color Tint > Hue & Intensity all the way up.)


Let us know how you're doing! Review others' posts and share your own experiences with other members in our dedicated Sober October Facebook group, or tag us on your own Facebook and Instagram posts: @momentumfitorg


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