Fri, February 26, 2021 | Lifestyle & Happiness
SLEEP SERIES | Sleep Hygiene
In the final part of our sleep series we go into more detail about ‘sleep hygiene’. This is basically our way of keeping our sleep ‘clean’ or optimal. Sleep is influenced by things like blue light exposure, caffeine and even stress, in this week’s blog we delve deeper into the details and provide you with some habits to put into practice.
Caffeine is a stimulant that fires up the central nervous system (CNS). When it reaches your brain, the most noticeable effect is alertness. You’ll feel more awake and less tired, so it’s a common ingredient in medications to treat or manage drowsiness, headaches, and migraines.
The trouble with caffeine is that it has a half-life that most don’t consider. Caffeine’s half-life is up to 5 hours. Half-life is the amount of time it takes for a quantity of a substance to be reduced to half the original amount.
So if you’ve consumed 10 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, after 5 hours, you’ll still have 5 mg of caffeine in your body.
This means that for the large majority of people, we will have caffeine coursing through our bodies late into the evening even if we consume it early in the day.
Next on the hit list… Blue Light or LED Light.
Blue light stimulates sensors in your eyes to send signals to your brain’s internal clock. Getting blue light, especially from the sun, in the daytime helps you stay alert while improving performance and mood (1)
However, modern light bulbs and electronic devices, especially computer monitors, produce large amounts of blue light and may disrupt your internal clock if you’re exposed to them during the evening (2).
When it gets dark, your pineal gland secretes the hormone melatonin, which tells your body to prepare for sleep. This is almost like the referee inviting a group of athletes to the starting line of the 100m sprint. Melatonin is the person holding the starting gun, although it may go off… the athletes all must run the race themselves – meaning we still need to wind down and practice healthy habits in order to actually get to sleep.
Blue light, whether from the sun or a laptop, is very effective at inhibiting melatonin production — thus reducing both the quantity and quality of your sleep (3)
Lastly and maybe most interestingly… Adenosine.
Adenosine is an important chemical that exists naturally in all cells of the body. It is used to transfer energy within the cells by forming molecules like adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and adenosine diphosphate (ADP), and it is also one of the chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, within the brain.
In addition to various other functions, adenosine has been found to be an effective natural painkiller, widens blood vessels, and helps regulate heart rhythm.
Adenosine inhibits many of the processes in the body that influence wakefulness. The more time we spend awake, the more our urge to sleep increases. This is driven by the accumulation of adenosine in the brain, as well as depletion of glycogen.
The interesting thing about adenosine is how our brain actually clears it out and also the things we put into our body that can slow down this ‘cleaning’ process, leaving us feeling drowsy.
Caffeine acts as an adenosine–receptor antagonist. This means that it binds to these same receptors. Fewer receptors are thus available to the natural “braking” action of adenosine, and neural activity therefore speeds up rather than slowing down. (4)
As a result, the cell can no longer identify adenosine because caffeine is taking up all the receptors that adenosine would normally bind to.
Instead of slowing down because of the adenosine effect, the nerve cells speed up. The pituitary gland senses this activity and thinks some sort of emergency must be occurring, so it releases hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (epinephrine). Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone, and it has a number of effects on your body.
So, when adenosine should be naturally slowing your brain and body down and making you drowsy… it’s being put on hold and you’re being kept alert by the caffeine in your system.
Keeping it clean
Here are some tips that our coaches practice themselves and recommend to clients.
- Put yourself on a bedtime schedule where you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
- Get plenty of exercises. About 20 to 30 minutes each day is a good start, just avoid working out in the hours before bedtime.
- Stick to water and other decaffeinated drinks before bed. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine may make it harder to get a good night’s rest.
- Create a bedtime routine to unwind from the day, like reading a book or taking a bath.
- Banish bright lights and loud noises from your bedroom. Too much TV or computer time may make it hard to relax.
- Don’t lay in bed tossing and turning. Consider getting up and doing light activity, like reading, until you’re tired again.
- Consider replacing your pillows if you’ve had them for over a year and have trouble getting comfortable.
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