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Day 5

Sleep Lesson: Notice How What You Consume Affects Your Sleep

Alcohol: Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but once you fall asleep, it actually robs you of the quality sleep stages you would normally get early on in your nightly cycle. After drinking, production of adenosine (a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain) is increased, allowing for a fast onset of sleep. Hours later, after the alcohol has metabolized, your sleep becomes fragmented and you're likely to wake frequently.


The National Sleep Foundation states “drinking alcohol before bed is linked with more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity. That’s the kind of deep sleep that allows for memory formation and learning. At the same time, another type of brain pattern—alpha activity—is also turned on. Alpha activity doesn’t usually happen during sleep, but rather when you’re resting quietly. Together the alpha and delta activity in the brain after drinking may inhibit restorative sleep.”


The next morning, you're also more likely to wake up dehydrated and sleep-deprived. It best to stop drinking any alcohol within 2-3 hours of bedtime.   If you are having trouble sleeping or feeling rested in the morning, consider cutting alcohol sooner. If you are still having trouble, check in with your healthcare provider.



Caffeine: What actually happens in your body when you drink that extra cup of coffee? Does caffeine actually give us energy? This complex stimulant can actually be quite confusing in its effects.


When you drink caffeine, you're not actually getting more energy but simply re-proportioning the limited energy you have. Caffeine attaches to adenosine (the sleep-inducing chemical) receptors in our brains.  Adenosine increases throughout the day and as sleep debt increases. When caffeine binds to adenosine receptors, it blocks our our bodies natural way of telling us were tired. We get a boost in energy, but in reality, we are simply masking our sleep debt. Once the caffeine has worn off, the delayed effects all rush in at once, which is why we often crash after getting through the day on caffeine.


When you consume stimulants, your brain sends a message to the pituitary gland, which releases a hormone that tells your adrenals to produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. If you only have the occasional cup of coffee, your body will be able to react capably to the stimulation. But if you are drinking several cups of caffeine each day, you start to notice a weakened reaction. Some people might say that their ‘tolerance’ has increased, but the truth is, after long-term and repeated doses of caffeine, your adrenals are weakened and less able to respond adequately.


If you are taking caffeine to fight off tiredness from sleep debt, you may find that resting with a midday nap, even 20 minutes, will help you feel refreshed.



Sleep Enhancers: There are prescription medications and over the counter sleep aids that can be used to help facilitate sleep. Some health issues may require reliance on prescription medications for longer periods of time. Individuals that do not require long term use of sleep aids will do better based on behavioral changes rather than reliance on over-the-counter sleep aids.


Studies on the impact of sleeping pills have shown their long term effects to be ineffective. A 2006 study analyzed four groups, one was given sleeping pills, another received recommendations for changing their behavior at bedtime, a third received both behavioral recommendations and the medication, the final group received only a placebo. The only group with long term benefits were the participants that changed their bedtime behaviors. This proved that behavioral measures are far more effective than sleeping pills.  


If you have having difficulty sleeping due to stress, life circumstances, or health related issues, it is best to report this to your health care provider for help rather than taking over the counter sleeping aids without the support of a healthcare provider. Over the counter sleep aids may help for a very short period of time (less than 3 days) but have addictive potential and can negatively affect your sleep (much like alcohol) over a long period of time.



Food: It turns out that the source of our calories can influence wakefulness. Protein is energizing, it increases norepinephrine; high or refined carbohydrates are relaxing, they increase serotonin. So having a serving of protein food like tuna salad, grilled chicken, or a plant based protein substitute would be a better choice if you need caloric energy rather than something like a pasta or a bread-intensive meal with a shake or dessert, which could cause a sugar-high and carbo-crash combination.