Are you a severe night owl LSPD late sleep phase disorder insomnia

Are you an extreme night owl?

In my quest to understand more about my slow metabolism, I've been looking more and more at my circadian rhythms.

I've always been a night owl and tend to come alive late at night becoming super productive and creative, when everyone else is asleep. When I've worked long hours in the city – and had to get up early, I would often try to go to bed at a sensible time. But I’d just lie in bed feeling wide awake and frustrated that sleep didn't come. Until much, much later.

When you Google struggling to sleep, you come up with lots of hits for insomnia. Insomnia didn't quite feel right, but what else could it be? Insomniacs often wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep. Once I'm asleep, I don’t wake up until my sleep is abruptly ended by an alarm, or I have the rare luxury of waking up naturally.

I noticed when I wasn't working, and was able to follow my natural routine, I'd eventually feel tired in the early hours of the morning, and wake up around 11:34am. When I say around, I mean precisely. Every single day. So I was getting a decent 8 or so hours sleep. It just wasn't at a socially acceptable time. Doesn't sound so much like insomnia.

Are you a severe night owl LSPD late sleep phase disorder insomnia

It has a name?

After researching this further, I eventually found out about other people who sleep like this too. And it has a name: Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD – but most definitely not to be confused with the other DSPD – Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder). DSPD is exactly what I have been experiencing. A complete shift of the socially acceptable sleeping time several hours to the right. Core body temperature, hormones, alertness, energy levels – all happening at the “wrong” time.

Jetlag reset

I recently travelling halfway round the world from Australia to the UK. I had expected to be able to use jetlag to my advantage and “reset” my sleep times. The first few days it all went to plan, I’d be unable to fight off the tiredness by 8pm – and would be wide awake by 5am. But, after just a few days I fell back into my middle of the night to 11:34am routine. After researching DSPD, this seems to be the same issue across the board. Changing time zones is not a fix.

Curing DSPS?

It’s all quite gloomy on most sites, as many people believe there is no cure. They suggest getting a job to fit in with your natural sleeping times, rather than trying to work a conventional job with a 6am alarm call. The most common “cure” recommends you force yourself to stay up for an extra hour or two each night, with the idea being that after a few weeks you could stop adding on the time when you get to your preferred new bedtime, perhaps 10pm? But that seems like a bit of a hard core solution. In the middle of that transition you’d be sleeping over the entire daylight hours. That can't be good!?

My solution

Over the last few weeks, I've been trying out my own method of solving this – and I've made some really good progress.

The answer seems to be in Circadian Rhythms. We get our cues from daylight as to what time of day it is, and crucially the early morning sun is completely different to late afternoon sun. There is far more blue light in the mornings, which I simply never got to see. Also at night, all the artificial street lights come on, TV’s, computer screens, smartphone – and we’re bathed in artificial blue light signalling to our brain that it’s morning and we should be at the peak of our alertness!

So it was clear to me that I needed to get natural sunlight as early as possible in the mornings. As soon as I wake up, I now head straight outside, barefoot, and walk for about an hour. I've also stopped wearing sunglasses, to make sure I'm getting as much natural light in as I possibly can, particularly in the first half of the day. After sunset, I try to reduce artificial blue light as much as I can.

Whilst I'm not at conventional sleeping hours yet, I am definitely slowly shifting my times to the left.  I'm starting to feel sleepy earlier and waking up naturally quite a lot earlier too. The biggest improvement has been my energy levels. I feel so much more alert and energetic during the morning and daytime. I'm also feeling a lot warmer during the day, which I think is a good indication that I may be on the track to normalising my circadian rhythm.

I'm never going to be an “Early Bird” naturally waking up at 5:30am everyday, weekend or weekday. But I hope to be able to shift my sleep and waking hours to something far more reasonable – and in turn increase my daytime metabolic rate and energy levels.

I’d love to hear more about your natural sleeping patterns in the comments, below. Are you a severe night owl (DSPD) too? Do you just live with it, or have you had any success in changing it? Any nuggets of information you have on circadian rhythms – I’d really like to hear!

It's official - I have a slow metabolism paleo primal diet weight loss metabolic testing BMR accurate methods Australia Sydney-min

It’s official – I have a slow metabolism

I've been talking about my own weight loss struggle, and the journey I'm on to find out exactly what’s going on (and what I can do about it). You can catch up on the first three posts here, here and here. This week, it's all about metabolism.

Last week I told you about my body scan, and how it calculated my resting (basal) metabolic rate. Your resting metabolic rate is basically how much energy your body needs just to keep ticking over, with no physical activity (for brain activity, breathing, digestion etc).

Unscientific BMR

You can work out your resting metabolic rate yourself, using a very crude formula along the lines of:

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )

Here is the metric version:
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

Using this formula, I get a BMR of 1608 calories a day. Of course, this formula uses your total body mass, so if you had identical twins of the same height, age and weight, they would get the exact same result for their BMR – even if one had 8% body fat and the other 40% (and this just happened to work out to the same overall weight).

It's official - I have a slow metabolism paleo primal diet weight loss metabolic testing BMR accurate methods Australia Sydney-min

Slightly more scientific BMR

The body scan I had calculated my resting metabolic rate as 1639 kcal a day. This would have used a similar calculation, but it would have taken into account my exact lean muscle mass and my exact fat mass (as they require different amounts of energy to maintain).

As soon as I saw this figure it caught my attention. During my months of experimenting with different ways to lose weight, I’d spent a significant period eating far less calories than this – whilst sprinting and swimming. How can I have been expending so many more calories than I was in taking – and not burning off any fat to make up the deficit? It just doesn’t make sense?

What if my metabolism is lower than the average used in these calculations? What if my body uses far less energy than an average person each day? Perhaps my metabolism is a lot lower than the calculated 1639 a day?

I had to find a way to calculate my exact resting metabolic rate, to understand how much of an impact this was having on my difficulty to burn off fat.

Scientific BMR

I found out about the most accurate way to have your basal metabolic rate tested. Apparently there are special chambers which are completely sealed. You are weighed and all of your biometrics are taken before you enter the chamber, which is then sealed. Everything that goes into and out of the chamber is weighed and measured. You effectively live in this chamber for 24 hours and go about a normal(ish) day, resting, sleeping, eating etc, By calculating your weight, the amount of gas inhaled and exhaled, what you eat (and what leaves your body), they are able to calculate exactly how much energy your body uses in a day, at rest (whilst you’re asleep) and when awake and going about a typical day.

I had to spend 24 hours in one of these chambers.

Unfortunately my extensive googling revealed there doesn’t seem to be a single one of these chambers in the whole of Australia. The chambers that I thought I may be able to convince to let me test my BMR all seem to be in North America – which unfortunately isn’t realistic at the moment. So I had to find the next best alternative…

Scientific-enough BMR

I found out about a metabolic testing option called VO2 (as in volume of oxygen) testing, that is something I can realistically have tested – in my own city. VO2 testing seems to be geared around athletes wanting to find out how efficiently their oxygen use is (and ultimately make this process more efficient and improve their athlete performance).

The VO2 test measures both your resting (basal) metabolic test and you exercise metabolic rate. In my quest to find out more about my metabolism, it was the resting metabolic rate that I was particularly interested in, but in the interest of comparison had the exercise rate tested too.

For the resting test, you need to be as un-awake as possible, so they like to run this test early in the morning. I usually have a long commute, so I stayed locally the night before to avoid any extra stress from the commute. They told me not to listen to music or check emails before, so I did as I was told and got to the studio at 6am as un-awake as I could manage.

As soon as I arrived I was given my mask which was hooked up with some tubes, connected to the machine that was to analyse my breath. I also put on a heart monitor that was connected to the machine and laptop. They lowered the lights and I laid down for about 15 minutes, while the test got underway. Trying to breath normally – when you know it is being analysed – was surprisingly hard, but once all the data had been collected the machine beeped to indicate the test had concluded. By measuring my oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production during this period of rest, an accurate daily caloric expenditure is calculated. Exactly the information I was looking for!

The exercise assessment happened straight after. For this I wore the same mask (not a good look!) and moved into the gym, where I chose to do the assessment on the treadmill (the other option was the bike). The laptop was hooked up to the machine and told the trainer when to increase the intensity of the treadmill (he increased the speed and gradient), depending on my heart rate. By the end of the assessment it got really difficult, but this is how it has to be to ensure the test captures all of the required data. This test is supposed to measure VO2 utilization (amount of oxygen you're able to use during exercise), heart rate response, the precise number of calories your body burns during exercise, and whether fats or carbohydrates (sugars) are being used as the primary energy source. The assessment also maps your appropriate heart rate training zones. Interesting stuff!

The Results

So the whole purpose for this was to find out my actual resting metabolic rate. Was the formula calculated value of 1639 right? Well it turns out it wasn’t even close… The VO2 tests calculate my resting metabolic rate as 1316 calories a day. That’s over 300 calories less than where the formula put me! Given that it wasn’t a true resting assessment as I was well and truely awake, perhaps that means the calculate rate was still too high? Either way, 300 calories is a huge variance – that’s a meal!


On the exercise side (which I'm less interested in, but will be a useful comparison point) it looks like my primary energy source is fat, not carbohydrates (which given my paleo diet isn't really a surprise). But if my exercise is efficient at burning fat – then why is regular HIIT not burning my fat stores?

A long way from average

Seeing the concrete proof that I do in fact have a low metabolism raises so many more questions than it answers. Why is my BMR so much lower than average? Has it always been this way? What came first, the slow metabolism or the weight gain? Do all of my slim friends have higher than average metabolisms? Do all overweight people have slow metabolisms? And of course the big question – (how) can I change my metabolism?

What I really don’t understand is how I sustained daily exercise on top of eating quite a bit below this number of calories each day. Where did the surplus come from, as it clearly didn’t come from burning fat stores?

There has to be more to it…

Next week I’ll be sharing more of what I’ve found out on this journey into weight loss