There are a few things people take on a regular basis that can absolutely destroy their sleep cycles without them knowing it. And some of those substances might come as surprise to you because you may think they usually help you relax and fall asleep. But the opposite is true. Not only are those substances bad for your health in general, but they also are bad for your sleep.
Listen, if you want to improve your sleep dramatically and you are currently doing one or more of the things listed below, I urge you to stop doing them. And if you can’t stop, find some help. But it is absolutely critical that you get rid of those bad habits. So here is a list of what not to do, and why you shouldn’t do it.
1. Alcohol: Yes I know exactly what you are thinking and I can already here you. “But I have a glass of wine or two at night and it actually helps me sleep”. False, false and more false. Alcohol, after stimulating you, will make you sleepy, drowsy and might help you pass out faster, but you will remain in the first phases of sleep (light sleep), and never enter deep restorative sleep. Because of its sedating effect, people with sleep problems tend to drink at night. But even though you may think the results are positive because you were able to fall asleep faster, they are in fact rather negative, because alcohol will actually disturb your sleep cycles and phases. Plus alcohol should not be something you rely upon to fall asleep.
Here is another interesting fact: if you thought drinking earlier in the day would not affect your sleep well think again. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa41.htm) “Alcoholic beverages are often consumed in the late afternoon (e.g., at “happy hour” or with dinner) without further consumption before bedtime. Studies Roehrs, T., and Roth, T. Alcohol-induced sleepiness, and memory function. Alcohol Health Res World 19(2):130-135, 1995) show that a moderate dose of alcohol consumed as much as 6 hours before bedtime can increase wakefulness during the second half of sleep. By the time this effect occurs, the dose of alcohol consumed earlier has already been eliminated from the body, suggesting a relatively long-lasting change in the body’s mechanisms of sleep regulation” Landolt, H.-P., et al. Late-afternoon ethanol intake affects nocturnal sleep and the sleep EEG in middle-aged men. J Clin Psychopharmacol 16(6):428-436, 1996; Vitiello, M.V. Sleep, alcohol and alcohol abuse. Addict Biol (2):151-158, 1997.)
Another interesting fact about alcohol is that it actually inhibits the secretion of a hormone called ADH (Anti-Diuretic Hormone), which when in normal levels makes you retain the appropriate amount of water. But when you drink alcohol, this hormone stops being produced, and therefore your body looses more water than it should. This is called dehydration. So what does it mean for you? Well the more alcohol you drink, the more your body will dehydrate and this has 2 consequences:
1. When you are dehydrated, you can’t sleep well and wake up thirsty in the middle of the night.
2. You wake up in the middle of the night with the urge to urinate.
So here are 2 more ways alcohol disrupts your sleep. Knowing all this, we can come to the conclusion you will be better off without drinking alcohol at all. Does that sound too hard for you? Well, you make the choice: the pleasure of booze or restful healthy deep restorative sleep.
2. Nicotine: Do you smoke? Do you find you need that last cigarette at night otherwise you just can’t relax from the busy day you had and won’t be able to fall asleep? Maybe as you are reading these words it’s late, you can’t sleep and you have a cigarette between your fingers. Well let me tell you something interesting: just as I said it with alcohol, you’d be better off without it. So put it out right now! Yes, you heard me; that last cigarette of the day that is supposed to relax you, will, in fact, have just the opposite effect.
If you are under the impression the cigarettes you smoke actually help you relax, you have been fooled. Nicotine is a stimulant!
Nicotine stimulates your nervous system, and instead of helping you sleep, it is going to keep you awake and tossing and turning in bed. It has the same effect as drinking a cup of coffee.
Smokers will usually stay in a light sleep and spend less time in deep restorative sleep, and may not even enter deep sleep. Nicotine also reduces the amount of REM sleep. You should now be well aware of the health dangers this leads to. Nicotine withdrawal (the decrease of nicotine level in the body and the need to replenish it) usually tends to wake up the smoker 3 to 4 hours after falling asleep. Long-term chronic smokers may also develop respiratory problems and cough, which greatly interferes with sleep. I remember a man I had met some years ago, a chronic smoker; he had been smoking 1 pack and a half a day for many years. He would cough so much at night he wouldn’t sleep; he couldn’t lay down more than 10 minutes without coughing and also had trouble breathing. The scary part is he was only 45 years old. So if you are a smoker and would like to improve your sleep, you know what to do! I am not telling you to quit cold turkey; you could at least stop smoking 1 or 2 hours before going to sleep. I know to some of you this seems impossible; well would you rather remain with your sleep problem?
The last word on cigarette smoking: even with all this information available to you, if you decide to keep smoking, and can’t give up that last cigarette of the day, please make sure you do not smoke it in bed, or fall asleep with your cigarette lit in your hand. Every year many, many people are injured, and others die in fires caused by someone who fell asleep with a lit cigarette. Be responsible, and you may save lives.
3. Caffeine: If you didn’t know it yet, caffeine is, according to wikipedia.com “the world’s most popular psychoactive drug”. It is widely used for its stimulating effect, to stay alert, and fight sleepiness. It is therefore absolutely logical caffeine should be avoided in all its forms as we get closer to the end of the day. But logic is not always followed. Have you ever found yourself drinking a caffeinated drink less than 6 hours before going to bed? Well if you have this bad habit, change it right away because it can take up to 6 hours for caffeine effects to wear off.
Here are some of the known effects of caffeine:
-Stimulates the central nervous system
-Increases heart rate
-Diuretic (makes you urinate more)
-Raises body temperature
Another little-known fact is that caffeine is not just found in coffee. As a matter of fact, it is contained in many other common foods and it also has different names such as:
And here is a list of the foods we can find caffeine in:
-Some Diet Pills
Of course, not all theses foods contain the same amount of caffeine. Chocolate, for example, has a low caffeine content. But did you know that a serving of soft drink contains 10 mg to 50 mg of caffeine when an average serving of coffee contains 40 mg? You see soft drinks are as much of a stimulant as coffee is. Also know that “decaf” does contain caffeine but in a smaller amount. Odds are, you know you shouldn’t drink coffee at night and therefore you avoid it.
But are you avoiding soft drinks as well? If you are drinking a couple of cans of soda within 6 hours of going to bed, you are increasing the caffeine in your body, which in turn stimulates your nervous system, and will make it harder for you to either fall asleep or stay asleep. You may toss and turn in bed with your eyes open for hours and wonder why you just can’t relax and go to sleep; the answer may lie in those cans of soda you had a few hours ago, or even the cup of coffee you had after dinner.
As a rule of thumb, if you have trouble sleeping at night, you should avoid all caffeine containing food within 6 hours of going to bed. You will dramatically increase your chances of going to sleep and staying asleep, you will find it is much easier to relax, turn your mind off and finally get the rest you need.
A side note on caffeine: Some people consider caffeine as a substitute for sleep. They will just disregard their lack of sleep and “compensate” with one cup of coffee after another to stay awake and alert. Knowing what you now know about the importance of sleep, I am sure you understand this is not something you should do. Your body will accumulate fatigue, will not be able to repair itself and will eventually breakdown (disease).
There is absolutely NO substitute for sleep. If you are not sleeping enough, drinking coffee, soda or taking caffeine pills to keep you awake and “functioning” is not a solution. It can become a vicious cycle, leading to addiction: someone does not sleep well at night, wakes up tired without energy and decides to drink coffee all day long to “stay awake”. Caffeine accumulates in the system and when the time to sleep comes, this person can’t relax and stays wired due to all the coffee drunk during the day. The next day, he wakes up tired again and starts the process over. If this is happening to you, your health could be in serious danger and I would recommend you find a way out of the addiction, and stop relying on coffee. You will be tired at first, maybe even completely exhausted, but your body isn’t a machine!
4. Sugar: Sugar is not technically a stimulant but its effects are similar. The intake of sugar will cause a rise in your body insulin level to metabolize it, leading to a surge of energy. Amongst other things, sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, which can lead to hyperactivity. Knowing this, you will probably want to stay away from all high sugar content foods, especially refined white sugar. This means no sodas (again), ice cream, candy bars, cookies and many other things!
The average soda, for example, contains about 40 mg of refined sugar, which is equivalent to about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Not only does sugar interfere with sleep but it also leads to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. From now on, make a conscious effort to avoid refined white sugar, and yes you will have to change your habits, but there can’t be any results without change. Your body will thank you for it.
5. Exercising at night: You must know that exercising at night or shortly before bedtime can have the opposite effect and keep you up. To prevent this sort of problem, you should always avoid exercising close to bedtime. As a rule, do not exercise 3 hours before going to bed. It is much better to exercise in the morning, and if you don’t have time, you could start waking up 30 minutes earlier.
As you become familiar with your sleep, understand your natural rhythms, and start getting good quality, deep restorative sleep, you will notice that waking up earlier is actually easy and gives you more energy. Take advantage of this extra time to exercise instead of ending the day with it.
So there you have it 5 sleep killers revealed to you. You know what to do!