Musings on sleep, performance and the 2016 Institute for Functional Medicine Conference

I just returned home from the 2016 Institute for Functional Medicine Conference. As usual, it was an enlightening experience with incredible new information on sleep, exercise and more being shared. Even with my flight being cancelled and no other flights for 4 days, the rental car road trip back home to Jackson gave me time to process the event.

Upon arriving at the conference, I was struck by how Functional Medicine physicians actually walk the talk of lifestyle medicine. The back of the conference room contained standing desks and exercise balls so attendees could alternate between sitting down, standing, and balancing on the balls. With cardiologists now calling sitting the new smoking, it was awesome to see a group of doctors who understand how bad sitting really is actually changing their behavior to prolong their vitality.

Last year at the IFM in Austin, during break the gluten free food and tea bar was rolled out with healthy food choices and delicious snacks. In contrast, a financial management conference was taking place next to the IFM Conference and as our break ended their break started. I noticed their catering service brought in the Coca Cola cooler and the ice cream snack cooler for their break food – the antithesis of what they should be eating.

Sleep and exercise were the biggest topics of this year’s conference. Dr. Jeffery Bland gave a lunchtime talk on clock genes and the rhythms of the body and of nature.  The presentation ranged from the production of proteins by our DNA to keep track of circadian rhythms to the menstrual cycle. The common message was that there is a synchronicity in the code of life that lets us all be in harmony.  There seems to be evidence that the body does best with a set schedule: eat at the same time, go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time etcetera so that the cells and the clock genes get into a rhythm.

Microbes on the Crosshairs - Fighting Infection by Viruses and Bacteria

Dr. Mark Hyman spoke about how the number of hours we sleep influences performance.  The Army did a study comparing sleep hours to target shooting proficiency. They found after 8 hours of sleep the accuracy was 95%.  With sleep reduced slightly to 7 hours, the accuracy rate dropped to 53%. With 6 hours of sleep the accuracy rate dropped to 23 % and with 5 hours or less the rate of accuracy was 15% – or the equivalent performance reduction of several alcoholic beverages!

A common thread in several presentations was daily fasting. You want to make breakfast just that, break-the-fast. It is important to have 12 hours without eating between the evening meal and the morning meal to allow the body to have enough time to process food and reset the metabolic clock.

Another talk that I pondered on my long drive home was about how the key to building muscle mass is consistent protein intake.  Most of us consume a little protein each meal but only dinner contains adequate protein to build muscle. The key is to get 30 grams (this number varies based on body weight) at each meal so you can have the protein available to build muscle. It is also important to eliminate food sensitivities so our intestinal processes are optimized to absorb and use the protein we consume; many people eat enough protein, but leaky gut syndrome and immune response prevents them from properly utilizing the protein in their food.

Even after going to the IFM conference for years, with other functional medicine events in between, I still have a sense of wonder at the progress we’re making each year in understanding how the human body works and how we can prevent and cure disease using individualized medicine. It’s an exciting time to be a doctor – and an empowering time to be an individual motivated to control the destiny of your health.