Heal Thy Sleep

Posted by Romy Lawson on

We know there will have been lots of sleep lost over the last few months.

And by the looks of Instagram & TikTok, a pretty dramatic increase in the amount of alcohol and coffee we are consuming. Lots of spare time, increased access while staying at home and both could be seen as coping mechanisms while navigating this chaotic time. 

With approximately 1/3 of our lives spent asleep, the importance of adequate snoozing in our overall physical, mental and emotional wellbeing can’t be understated.

But if you have been struggling to get to sleep or fall asleep, it might be worth looking at what’s in your cup.  

 

The quality and quantity of our sleep is an interplay of chemical, hormonal and homeostatic factors.

Our sleep/wake cycle, also known as our circadian rhythm is regulated in the brain by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).

This receives information from our external environment about light we are exposed to, and it’s this that controls the timing of physiological processes in the body, including our temperature, hormone release and our sleep. The SCN also sends messages to the pineal gland which increases the production of the hormone melatonin from serotonin. Melatonin is produced when it gets dark and promotes sleepiness. 

In addition to this, cells within our brain produce the brain chemical gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), which functions to reduce excitability of the nervous system, basically creating a state of calm & relaxation.

Another important factor in sleep is adenosine, a breakdown product from our cells when they produce energy (ATP). This actually builds up over the course of the day, and contributes to your desire to sleep at the end of it.

Finally, “sleep homeostasis”, helps drive our desire for sleep after a certain time and determines your sleep intensity. So basically, if you’ve been out raging all night, then sleep homeostasis will ensure you make up for it the next night.

 

Caffeine:

It’s not a secret that caffeine, most commonly in the form of coffee helps to keep us alert and awake.

It’s ability to do this is due to being an adenosine-receptor antagonist, which means that it inhibits the effect of adenosine and drives away the desire to sleep that usually builds up over the day.

The effects of caffeine are dependent on the amount consumed, when you consume it and your rate of elimination. This is because caffeine has a half-life of approximately 2-10 hours, which refers to the time it takes the body to eliminate half of what was consumed. This is such a huge variable, and could explain why some people are so sensitive to the effects of caffeine while others don’t feel it as much.

The metabolism and elimination of caffeine depends on a lot on your genetics, your age, sex, smoking status and your overall liver function.

So if you’re used to having an arvo coffee, depending on your rate of metabolism & excretion you might still have it in your system until later that night. Which could significantly impact your quantity and quality of sleep.

Further to this, caffeine’s diuretic effects increases urination which contributes to increased excretion of B vitamins & magnesium. These play an integral role as co-factors in the production of the brain chemicals we need to sleep; serotonin, melatonin & GABA.

Try reducing your caffeine intake (this includes tea (green & black), soft drinks & chocolate) and keep it to the start of the day to reduce the likelihood it will impact your sleep.

At the end of the day, opt for calming teas such as lemon balm, lavender, chamomile etc. instead.

 

Alcohol

Who doesn’t love a nightcap at the end of the day.A little vino to help relax and unwind.

Don’t get me wrong, alcohol makes a good sedative and is often used by people as a sleeping aid. This is because alcohol is actually shown to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by interacting with GABA-receptors and promoting adenosine function.

However, this sedation is short-lived.

The greater amount of alcohol you consume, the bigger rebound effect it has. This is where your body tries to adjust to the effects the alcohol has caused in the first half of the night, and creates huge disruption and wakefulness in the second half.

Importantly, alcohol has been shown to reduce the overall amount of Rapid-Eye Movement (REM) sleep we get.

Why’s this such a big deal?

Well REM sleep is mostly associated with our dreaming, and thought to be where we consolidate our memories and help process our emotions from the day.

The increased thirst (hello dry mouth!) and need to go to the toilet only further worsens the need to wake throughout the night.

This increased urination also contributes to increased requirements of important nutrient co-factors required for sleep like Vitamin B6 & magnesium (similarly to caffeine).

Alcohol can even exacerbate sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnoea and snoring.

Our liver breaks down less than one standard drink per hour. So keep reduce the negative impacts it can have on your sleep, keep drinks minimal and early in the night.

 

If you’re reading this and think that your sleep could be a little more restful and not so disrupted, it might be worth taking a look at your booze and coffee intake and adjusting this to see if it helps!

You can also ensure that you are metabolising and eliminating these effectively by supporting your liver health (Look at our Feb blog-  Heal Thy Liver for more info!).

But for the most part, it’s probably just a good idea to give it a break.

Until next time, 

Romy

 

 

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