In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 temperature ! Guided 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?
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!