Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
11 Feb

Dear Mark: Bad Sleep Tips, Cold Extremities, and Sweet Feed

Cold HandsIn today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ll be covering a trio of topics. First is a parent with a problem common to members of her species: enforced sleeplessness. She wants, nay, needs, help with amelioration of the situation. Normally, I’d say “get more sleep,” but the point is that getting adequate sleep isn’t always a choice. Next, I discuss some potential causes of, and strategies for, chronically cold extremities. Luckily for the reader, strategies for fixing cold extremities can be as enjoyable as eating more food, using more salt, and breathing more mindfully. Finally, I allay a reader’s concern with the “sweet feed” being used to supplement the mostly-grass-and-hay diet of the cows he hopes to eat.

Let’s go.

Dear Mark,

Firstly, thank you so much for your blog. As a scientist, it is so refreshing to read articles where papers etc have been reviewed and referenced; it is nice to have a trusted source (that’s not to say I don’t check myself occasionally, just to be sure….!).

My query is on enforced sleeplessness. I’ve had a good look through your site and, others’ comments aside, I can’t find a lot on surviving parenthood.

I’m not looking for parenting advice, but information on how to ameliorate the effects of years of broken sleep. It is easy to get into vicious cycles of bad sleep -> tired -> hungry = eat more + little sprinting-type exercise (the moving around a lot is not a problem!). Primal living has transformed my family (especially after my son and I were diagnosed celiac) but we are plateauing a bit. Are there any primal hacks to get through these years?

Many thanks for any info.

Kind regards,


Bad sleep can’t be out-trained, out-eaten, or out-hacked on a longterm basis, but that doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands and accept your sleepless fate. You can ameliorate the situation to a certain extent.

Certain supplements may help. Cinnamon has been shown to reduce the glucose intolerance that stems from a poor night’s sleep, so you could work some of that into your diet. In sleep-deprived adults with elevated inflammatory markers, magnesium supplementation reduced inflammation. The researchers were unable to conclusively determine if magnesium status was related to sleep status – poor sleep certainly increases oxidative stress – but it can’t hurt to get more magnesium.

I would caution against relying on coffee or energy drinks to get you through the day. A well-placed cup can certainly make the difference between a crappy day and a productive one, but it becomes less of a boost and more of a crutch if you continue to miss sleep. Consider coffee a stop-gap solution to poor sleep, not a long-term, regular solution. Try not to become that person who lines up for a coffee at 4 in the afternoon. Coffee is far more effective when you’re already getting great sleep. It’s a poor long-term replacement for it.

Modifying your training can help, but perhaps not in the way you think. When suffering from sleep deficiency, I’ve found that decreasing workout volume is the best move. All too often people will try to out-train their bad sleep by training more, training harder, and training longer, as if they could overcome the insulin resistance, increased appetite, and increased sensitivity to stress by sheer will. In practice, adding a significant stressor (increased training volume/intensity) to perhaps the most significant stressor of all (poor sleep) doesn’t work very well. Stick to lots of slow moving (which you’re already doing) and throw in some heavy lifting for short reps. Don’t do extended Crossfit-esque workouts, don’t run HIIT on an empty stomach, don’t do any super-stressful workouts on bad sleep.

It’s also important to not lose sleep over losing sleep. In other words, being the parent of a young kid sometimes means you’re simply going to miss out on sleep on a regular basis. You can’t always change that, so you have to accept it. And accepting it is a crucial step toward ameliorating the negative effects. Lack of sleep will still be exerting negative health effects (and even those reduce a bit as your body adapts to the reduced sleep volume), but stressing out about it will only compound the problem. If you can eliminate that added unnecessary stress, you’re going to be healthier in the long run. This is what makes humans so uniquely susceptible to bad health – we stress and worry and fret over the initial health malady, thereby making it even worse.

Dear Mark,

I’ve been a follower of your website for almost a year now and I have a question that I would like your help on.

For a long time now (2 years or so) I have suffered from very cold feet and occasionally cold hands. I visited my doctor who basically told me that it’s “normal” and “to live with it”. Wearing extra socks does not cut it and I often have to use a fan heater to keep my feet warm.

I know that these things don’t just happen for a reason but I’m not sure what the cause could be. I have read somewhere that it could be related to stress where blood rushes back towards internal organs for emergency usage. I have to say that I’m not at all stressed, in any form.

Thank you


We can be stressed without “feeling stressed,” if that makes any sense. Some people call it hidden stress, and it usually occurs when someone has gotten so accustomed to chronic stress that it doesn’t even register in his or her waking consciousness. Just to be sure that stress isn’t bothering you, try a few simple strategies for reducing it:

  • Deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Take ten minutes out of every day to do long, slow, deep belly breathing, split into two five minute sessions (noon and night).
  • Meditation is also highly useful for reducing stress, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Get really adept at it and you can even raise your body temperatureGuided meditations are good for beginners.
  • Do some gentle movement first thing in the morning, preferably outside if it’s not too cold. Five, ten minutes max. I’ve linked to this before, but Angelo’s (from PrimalCon) VitaMoves is fantastic.

Check out a previous post on the subject.

If it turns out stress wasn’t the culprit, hey, at least you’re doing healthy breathing, meditation, and morning movement! Since you’ve been having this problem for two years, and you’ve been Primal for around one year (maybe a bit less), it’s not the cause, but it’s not fixing the problem. Something is still causing lower body temperatures. Does that sound right? I’ll discuss some potential culprits. All or none or some of them could be the answer.

Lack of sleep: Seems to be a theme today, doesn’t it? Sleep deprivation reduces body temperature pretty consistently (PDF). Are you getting around 8 hours a night? Are you waking up relatively refreshed, with steady energy throughout the day?

Lack of food: Are you eating enough? Eating under maintenance, especially on a chronic, ongoing basis, can reduce body temperature. This problem can get even worse if you’re exercising on top of a massive calorie deficit. If you’re trying to cut weight, consider throwing in a few days per week of major overfeeding (preferably situated around exercise) so that you’re not in a constant state of deprivation.

Hyperhydration: I’ve always questioned the standard “8-glasses-a-day” mantra, and hyperhydration is an effective way to lower body temperature. Don’t drink so much water if you aren’t actually thirsty. And when you are thirsty, go for mineral water or add trace mineral drops to regular water.

Lack of salt: A common result of eliminating processed food is a spontaneous reduction in salt intake. You’re no longer going out for fries and burgers, you don’t buy potato chips, you’re eating lots more vegetables and fresh, rather than processed, meats. It’s pretty common to eat less salt than you were before. Some people even get the idea that the PB restricts any added salt, which just isn’t the case. Eat more salt, because sodium can increase body temperature. Go ahead and monitor your blood pressure if that’s a concern, but as long as you get plenty of potassium and magnesium with your salt, it shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re stressed, salt needs increase during stress.

Hypothyroidism: You could be hypothyroid, as cold hands and feet are common symptoms. If you have other symptoms, like general fatigue/malaise and weight gain, try eating more seaweed and other seafood for the iodine.


I have a question for you that I don’t remember seeing anywhere. I contacted a local farmer to see if they fed the cows any grains and the answer I got is as follows. “No our cows are not grain finished, we give them minimal sweet feed (50 pounds for 36 cows) 3 times a week so they come to us when we rattle a bucket. We do not give them hormones or steroids they are grass and/or hay fed.”

I’m assuming that a little over one lb of sweet feed a week is very minimal?

Please advise,


For those who don’t know, sweet feed is just normal livestock feed sweetened with molasses.

A pound of sweet feed in a week for an animal that eats 30-50 pounds of grass a day (if grass-fed) or 20 pounds of feed a day (if grain-fed/finished) shouldn’t be a big problem. If they’re truly living off grass and hay and getting a little sweet treat a few times a week for conditioning purposes, it should be fine. I bet they’re even happier than the average cow. Molasses-coated grains taste great, after all. Less stress, too, since the 80/20 principle applies to cows.

Looking more closely at how the farmer responded, I actually think they might be providing 50 pounds of sweet feet three times a week for a total of 150 pounds for 36 cows, rather than 50 pounds split across three feedings. Even then, that’s a mere drop in the bucket and I’m sure the meat will be great and nutritious.

Thanks for reading, folks. Be sure to leave any tips for Nathan and Elizabeth, if you’ve got ’em!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Dave Asprey over at Bulletproof Exec has some thoughts on hacking your sleep. Might be worth a look.

    I know what you mean about it being an issue. Even though I have been primal for almost two years, rarely have any alcohol, and do my best to reduce stress, a bad nights sleep makes me ratty, lethargic and nowhere near as able to perform – mentally or physically.

    I sympathise! In your shoes, I guess I’d try and sleep whenever I can. Take a nap when baby takes a nap (if you’re at home.) Sleep on the train. Just doze whenever you can! Easier said than done….but worth a try. Good luck!

    Keith wrote on February 12th, 2013
    • Thank you, will check out that site too :)

      Elizabeth wrote on February 12th, 2013
  2. Actually, regular breathing exercises can improve health of the respiratory system as well as relieve stress effectively. We have to keep our mind with our breathing pattern persistently during the exercise. It is a form of meditation. It can help us improve our memory and other functions of the brain.

    DRN Health World wrote on February 12th, 2013
  3. If you have cold hands and feet you are not dressing warm enough. I regularly work outside in the winter (in temps down to zero degrees) with no gloves. Insulated bibs, winter coat, and a hat. If I have to handle metal or get snow on my hands they’ll get cold for a minute or two, until the blood rushes back to them. Then they’ll feel down right hot.

    Phillip Burgmeier wrote on February 12th, 2013
    • Someone told me this same thing years ago, and I have good luck with it: If your hands and feet are cold, put more layers on your body (and head), as maintaining heat around your internal organs is the priority. Don’t know how effective this would be with actual Reynauds but it helps me (until I get a hot flash, lol)

      Rene R wrote on February 12th, 2013
      • That doesn’t help my Raynauds. I wear layers and layers of clothes and a hat, but my extremities still go numb.

        Christine wrote on February 13th, 2013
  4. A message for Elizabeth about the sleep problem with small children. I didn’t sleep much at all for about four years after having twins in 2002 when I was 40. At times I was cranky and mentally and physically exhausted but managed to keep going. Once my kids started sleeping I slowly got back to normal and with the help of clean primal style eating and resistance based exercise I now look and feel in great shape for my age. I guess what I’m saying is hang on in there, it does all go back to normal and hopefully doesn’t have any long lasting effects. I am leaner, stronger and fitter than I have ever been and I’m 52! People always said to me ‘enjoy the kids while they are small as it is such a short time’, when you are so tired it can be hard to be in the moment and enjoy them but now my twins are nearly 11 I realise that all those people were right! Good Luck.

    Julie Shore wrote on February 12th, 2013
    • What Julie said. I’ve had the very same experience. The idea about deciding to not care too much about the lost sleep when there’s nothing you can do about it is a good one from Mark’s article, too. I got that advice from another parent to, “Pretend to not care and it will kind of roll away.” And lowering my standards for household cleanliness in favor of sleep, also a help. Yeah. Enjoy life despite sleep misery, because the kids do give you back your time. Forever.

      Joy Beer wrote on February 12th, 2013
      • Thanks guys. I think the pretending not to care thing is definitely important. Since accepting the situation it has become so much easier… maybe that’s what people mean when they say the 2nd one’s easier – it sure as heck isn’t easier having 2 lol!

        Elizabeth wrote on February 26th, 2013
  5. Mark, a suggestion for Elizabeth: get in the habit of shutting down early. Learn to tag team household responsibilities with your husband and go to bed as early as your body tells you to. There are many nights when my husband and I go to sleep at 7:30 or 8. Boring? Absolutely! But this is the stage in life we are in and we know that without sleep everything else will suffer. We get a lot less stuff done then we use to and dates are a rare treat, but we are happy when rested. Turn off the TV and computer, leave the clothes u folded and get to bed.

    Monica wrote on February 12th, 2013
    • Thanks Monica :)

      Elizabeth wrote on April 5th, 2013
  6. I’ve been very interested in trying a magnesium supplement lately. Sometimes I could use a sleep aid.. can’t afford any pills but I got some cacao, which is supposed to be a good natural source, better for waking up than falling asleep though.
    I used to be all about caffeine but I think people are better off with theobromine.

    Animanarchy wrote on February 12th, 2013
    • As for cold extremities, yes, go for movement. Winter camping gave me minor frostbite or something. My toes and fingers have felt numb, asleep, a bit painful, for a while, and often I’d be very unhappy after waking up for that reason, wincing and cursing, and hunching up in an instinctual attempt to conserve body heat. Movement was my cure for the cold. I’d wear extra layers and walk or get some form of exercise until feeling warm, then delayer when necessary. Sometimes I got too warm and sweaty and ended up feeling more shivery soon after resting.
      Interesting about the salt. That was another thing I tried that seemed to help. I figured more salt means more retained water means more retained body heat.

      Animanarchy wrote on February 12th, 2013
  7. It sounds like it isn’t your problem (not too much post-primal weight loss), but ever since I changed my eating habits and lost 70 pounds in the process (255 to 185), I’ve gotten cold hands and feet more frequently.

    I don’t see any correlation with lack of sleep or stress, but I do with being in colder environments – a problem I never had when I was heavy.

    Pretty much all I can do is have a nice cup of herbal tea, wear gloves more often and avoid cotton socks in favor of wool and moisture-wicking synthetics.

    Maybe doing simple cold-exposure control can help. Regardless, best of luck with this really annoying problem.

    LarryB wrote on February 12th, 2013
  8. I’ve said this one here before, but I just want to reiterate.

    If you consistently feel fatigued every day you may have apnea, not insomnia. A sleep study is worthwhile because it will diagnose the reason behind your fatigue.

    Jackson Duhon wrote on February 12th, 2013
  9. If you suspect you might have hypothyroidism then please go and see your doctor. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause serious physical and mental health problems and will make you feel terrible. I know because I suffered with it for several years before I was diagnosed and wouldn’t wish the hell I went through on anyone.

    Iodine can be helpful in some cases, but iodine deficiency is only one cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimotos disease is far more common and is an autoimmune condition that requires medication and will get worse over time if it isn’t properly treated.

    It’s also worth noting that too much iodine can also damage the thyroid, so only supplement if you know that you have a deficiency.

    Faye wrote on February 13th, 2013
  10. I’ve been buying beef from a local farm that does something a little different. Their stock is nearly 100% grass-fed because they supplement with soy husks. I can’t get them to confirm if the husks are non-GMO. The meat is great and it feels good to buy local, however, the whole soy husk thing bothers me. Two of my local grocers have started to stock 100% grass-fed that comes from Montana which is perfect (other than the non-local aspect).

    Bald and Angry wrote on February 15th, 2013
  11. @Elizabeth,

    I recently decided to tackle my sleep issues, which started after I became a mom, then got even worse w/ menopause.

    What seems to be working is a combination of cold-adapting, using a sleep mask, and deliberately relaxing as I drop off.

    Cold adapting: I started taking cool baths (70-75 deg F) a couple times a week — approx 30 minute per soak. (This seems to have helped with one issue in particular — I’m less tolerant of becoming too warm than I was when I was younger. I think I’ve re-set my inner thermostat; I’m not waking up too warm/too cold as often as I did before I started this.)

    Sleep mask: the idea was to block even stray light (in my case from the street lights outside my bedroom) that might be interfering w/ melatonin production.

    Relaxing: I noticed that even when I sleep I tend to carry tension in some muscles, such as my jaw, so I started doing progressive relaxation when I go to bed. The idea being that I have habitual tension, and if it’s a habit it can be broken 😉

    Oh, I also loaded F.lux on my computer (learned about it on this blog) so that I reduce my exposure to blue light after sunset. And I try to keep to a regular bedtime.

    Good luck . . .

    Kirsten wrote on February 18th, 2013
    • Those are all great tips. It’s not so much a problem of not being *able* to sleep though, more not being permitted to remain so! Thanks :)

      Elizabeth wrote on February 26th, 2013
  12. I didn’t know cinnamon could help with that. Or that there were other sleep supplements like that.

    But yeah, definitely stay away from energy drinks to power you through the day – and coffee is not much better.

    Jack Martin wrote on February 25th, 2013

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