What is chrononutrition and how can it help you have more energy?
Do you still feel tired even when you get the prescribed seven to nine hours of sleep a night?
By now, you’re quite aware of the detoxifying and restorative benefits of sleep:
- Lasting energy
- Clear thinking and decision-making
- Weight loss
- Improved immune function
- Mood stability and emotional resilience
- Stress reduction (which helps reduce system wide inflammation)
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes
Yet it can be extremely frustrating feeling like you’re doing all the “right” things to get consistent, high-quality sleep – and they don’t seem to work for you.
The truth is, the reason you struggle to sleep may stem from one unexpected place: your gut.
The Connection Between Sleep & Your Microbiome
Your microbiome (the delicate environment inside your digestive tract) acts as the engine for every single system inside your body.
Within the microbiome, we have “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria.
“Good” bacteria help us process nutrients effectively, fight off inflammation, and promote healthy immune response. They grow and strengthen through regular detoxification, proper nutrition, and ample rest.
You know, all the things we struggle with in our modern lifestyles!
So it’s easy to see why our “bad” bacteria can take over, resulting in a harmful imbalance that often leads to chronic fatigue, insomnia, and even mental health concerns like anxiety and depression (which also have a negative impact on our ability to sleep well).
What Causes Toxicity In Your Body?
Picture yourself as a bucket (I know, kind of weird, but stick with me).
Like a bucket, you can only hold so much inside. And every time you encounter a toxin, it’s added to the bucket.
Eventually, the bucket can’t contain the toxins and overflows—it’s inevitable.
That’s what happens inside your microbiome without daily detoxification, which is a prime function of sleep.
And when that occurs, the mitochondria inside our cells (AKA: our energy centers) can no longer produce the amount of energy we need. Our systems become overloaded, we get sick, and start suffering the negative consequences because we can only process so many toxins before their performance suffers.
Mitochondria depletion is a major reason for fatigue – one that most people don’t know about but can easily remedy through simple lifestyle shifts.
Here’s some more good news: we actually have control over our toxic load. We can detox effectively, get the sleep we need, and restore our energy naturally.
The answer is: Chrononutrition.
What Is Chrononutrition?
Chrononutrition is the field of study that focuses on the relationship between eating patterns (when you eat), circadian rhythm (your body’s natural physical, emotional, and behavioral cycles in a 24-hour period), and metabolic health (how well your body processes food and nutrients in a positive way).
Essentially, by optimizing your chrononutrition, you prime the body to detoxify daily, improve digestive function and nutrient absorption, and decrease your risk of disease—while boosting your energy naturally at the same time!
Let me break down each part of chrononutrition for you.
Eating patterns: when you eat matters.
Our bodies naturally produce more chemicals and hormones at certain times of day, so it makes sense that we would align our meal timing to those functions.
And while there are certain commonalities and best practices for what to eat when (for example, eating a light meal with healthy fats and proteins in the morning because that’s when the body typically releases lipase and protease digestive enzymes that can process those kinds of foods well), we each have a unique biological clock inside of us that optimizes our digestion.
Ideally, we also give our digestive systems time to rest—a critical factor in effective detoxing. If you’ve heard of (or follow) intermittent fasting, this is an example of modifying eating patterns to allow your body to “clean” the digestive tract and therefore flush out body-wide toxins successfully.
Circadian rhythm: align with your internal clock.
You likely are aware of your circadian clock, even if you haven’t heard the term before.
For example, are you an “early bird” or a “night owl”? Do you tend to start your day early or do you prefer to burn the midnight oil? Is the ideal time of day for your physical activity AM or PM?
Being a morning or evening person is what’s known as a “chronotype”. Most experts agree there are three chronotypes: morning type, evening type, or neither, but some go even deeper.
For example, Dr. Michael Breus offers a chronotype quiz that results in one of four results:
- Lion: often known as “the early bird,” this chronotype wakes up early, is most productive in the morning, and often struggles with evening social plans
- Bear: someone who follows the schedule of the sun; this chronotype usually works traditional office hours and can handle evening social plans just fine
- Wolf: these are your “night owls” who prefer to go to bed late (usually after 10pm) and struggle with morning commitments
- Dolphin: often having insomnia, this chronotype got its name due to the dolphin’s tendency to be alert even while sleeping
While we each have a natural tendency, your circadian rhythm is often impacted by your lifestyle and circumstances. For example, if you work the late shift, care for a newborn, or experience jet lag, your circadian rhythm can get thrown off, resulting in insomnia, lethargy, brain fog, and reduced executive function (ability to plan, focus, make decisions, or retain information).
Getting to know your unique circadian rhythm and chronotype are critical for meal timing, as the time of day you eat affects how well your body can digest and process foods.
For example, maybe you often skip breakfast because it makes you feel heavy, sluggish, or ill.
Or you notice that you and your husband can eat the same meals at the same time, yet you gain weight while he seems immune to it.
The reason is your unique chronotype.
Your circadian rhythm also plays into other critical health aspects, including your hormones, appetite, energy levels, and sleep patterns.
If you’re consistently struggling with sleep, I recommend adjusting your evening wind-down routines to relax at least two hours before bed and begin shifting your bedtime to 30
Metabolic health: how well your body can wring nutrients out of food.
Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill found that only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy – which means 7 out of 8 people in the US are at increased risk for serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
How to Get Started with Chrononutrition
Before you begin any journey, it’s critical to know where you are right now.
Sure, you may recognize you have zero energy, sleep is a continual struggle, and your eating habits aren’t the best…
But those symptoms actually come from the cellular level. And now there are tests that can show you exactly what’s wrong where… so you can create a customized action plan to address those areas and get back on track fast.
That’s why I highly recommend getting a lab test done first – which you can do right here.
I also recommend taking four immediate steps to reduce your toxic load.
If you’re eating food prepared with soybean oil or seed oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, etc), processed grains, convenience prepared foods, restaurant foods, or non-organic food containing pesticides, they may be wreaking havoc on your digestive system.
When I run functional lab tests on clients, these foods show up as the biggest culprits. And if the issue shows up in labs, it’s definitely affecting mitochondrial function.
Here are 30 shifts/foods for you to try instead:
- Eliminate refined sugar, processed grains, bad fats (seed, soy oils), casein, gluten, and artificial ingredients
- Eat greens, vegetables, herbs, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains
- Incorporate healthy fats like avocados, olives, coconut, grass-fed butter/ghee, MCT oils, and pasture-raised eggs
- Get clean protein from grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, wild game, pasture raised poultry
- Try organ meats like liver, kidneys, heart, tongue, brain, bones, intestines, and tendons (go for supplements if you’re grossed out about cooking them!)
The best way to figure out precisely what tweaks to make is to get a functional lab test.
There are five widely accepted key factors that play into whether you are metabolically healthy:
- Waist circumference.
- HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind).
- Blood sugar.
- Blood pressure.
- Triglycerides (fat in your blood).
- Nutrient Deficiencies.
Nutrition is EVERYTHING.
If I had to pick ONE piece of advice to give to every client I have for the rest of my life, it would be to focus on nutrition.
Great nutrition helps restore your mitochondrial function, boost your energy, strengthen your immune system, fight off stress, and sleep better.
I also believe nutrition is one of the most accessible ways to feel better. You can start by making some simple shifts and buying different items at the stores you already go to.
The more convenience and processed food you eat, the more your body becomes deficient in crucial nutrients.
On the flip side, when you eat a diet rich in fruit, veggies, good quality meat, healthy whole grains, nuts, legumes, and dairy from goat and sheep, you help fuel your mitochondria optimally.
Again, your functional lab testing shows us exactly where you stand in this area.
- Chronic Stress.
Today, stress is the norm. From getting cut off on the freeway to having a next-day work deadline dropped on you, these seemingly “normal” daily occurrences actually throw our bodies into stress mode.
Stress increases inflammation, which makes it harder for your body to perform the way it should. Research shows that stress is a root cause of over 90% of disease – so getting a handle on this is of utmost importance.
Here’s the interesting thing, we can totally see the stress impact on our clients’ functional lab tests, too.
On a gut test, it shows up with inflammatory markers, decrease in healthy microbe populations, and overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria.
One of the best antidotes to our modern stressors is mindfulness practices and creating a self-care routine.
To get started right away, incorporate a daily meditation routine or morning gratitude journaling into your life and see what shifts!
I know, we’re back to where we started. *wink*
It’s not uncommon for chronic sleep deprivation to be a factor in reduced mitochondrial function. With crazy work schedules and all of our EMF and blue light exposure, it’s relatively common for lack of sleep to significantly contribute to reduced energy.
Here are some quick tips to help you address the major reasons we struggle with sleep:
Protect your eyes from blue light. Our brains interpret light as “time to be alert!” That’s why it’s a big no-no to watch TV or play on your phone as you lie in bed trying to fall asleep. Exposure to blue light can extend your nighttime circadian rhythm from 1.5 hours to 3 hours and suppress melatonin production (necessary to fall asleep). Get amber glasses to block out artificial blue light after sunset so your body easily enters deep sleep when your head hits the pillow. Also, don’t watch TV for at least 1-2 hours before hitting the sheets – and no more looking at your phone!
Create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine. Many of us don’t take the time to unwind before bed, which keeps our brains on high alert. Instead, dedicate the last hour or two (you know, after you’ve ditched those blue light activities *wink*) to create an evening ritual that helps your body and mind slow down, relax, and prepare for sleep. This could mean a warm bath or shower, your skincare ritual, listening to gentle music or white noise, or having a cup of decaf tea (chamomile, magnolia, or valerian root are good sleepy-time options).
Prepare for the day ahead. Are you a procrastinator? Do you put things off or not look ahead to what the next day holds for you? These tendencies may be low-key stressing you out – and keeping you from getting the deep, nourishing sleep you need. To help your brain relax before bed, look at your calendar so you know what is on your plate for the following day. Lay out your clothes, pack your lunch, set the coffeemaker on a schedule, and double check that your alarm is set (if you use one). Whatever helps you feel mentally and physically prepared for the next morning, add this to your evening routine so you can sleep well, knowing you’ve managed your morning stress as well as possible.
By the way, if you’re not getting enough sleep, your lab test will typically show elevated cortisol levels or markers for brain inflammation and dysregulated neurotransmitters.
When I share what functional medicine lab tests can do, most of my clients ask for one immediately. Not only do these tests show you exactly what’s going on in your body, they also pinpoint where you can focus your efforts to make the greatest impact on your energy, digestion, and brain stamina.
Let’s stop your bucket from overflowing. The most efficient and timesaving path is to get a lab test first, then make tweaks based on your specific results.
Take Good Care,