Food and drink, like sleep, are an essential part of living a healthy and fulfilling life, but we often forget that our body works as a whole. Most of us, for example, fail to acknowledge effect that alcohol, caffeine and rich food might have on our patterns of sleep, and feel frustrated when we sleep the requisite amount of time yet don’t feel refreshed.
In reality, most people are unwilling to live an entirely abstemious life. Try wrestling a cup of cappuccino from the hands of a caffeine addict just before they leave for work and you will begin to appreciate how many of us rely on such props to help us make it through the day.
With that in mind, it is worth admitting your weaknesses and planning out your daily diet sensibly to avoid the food and drinks that keep you awake and to begin to appreciate more soporific foods later in the day.
What we put into our body during the day can greatly affect our ability to fall asleep at night, and also the quality of rest that follows.
SLEEP AND WEIGHT
For those trying to lose weight, good sleep could be essential. A recent study by Columbia University in New York indicates that there is a link between sleep and the US’s obesity epidemic.
The research suggests that the more you sleep, the less likely you are to become obese. People who get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night are up to 73 per cent more likely to be obese although, obviously, obesity is also usually the result of several other lifestyle factors.
It has also been proved that there is a connection between middle-aged spread in men and the quality of sleep they have. Men, during sleep, produce the growth hormone. This hormone maintains and renews muscle tone, but it decreases naturally with age, as does the amount of sleep men need.
The problem is, if they don’t fulfill their sleep needs, they won’t be getting as much of the growth hormone as they could – thus speeding the arrival of a stomach paunch.
THE BAD STUFF
Caffeine, in beverages such as tea, coffee and fizzy drinks, will keep you awake well into the night if you let it, so you need to enjoy your last cup at least five hours before bedtime. The same goes for heavy, rich foods.
Although scientists say that there are no direct chemical reasons why such foods should keep you awake, your digestive system still needs to break down the food. As this is one of the functions that the body shuts down during sleep, it can keep you up, or affect your sleep quality, until it has finished its work.
So a rich meal with alcohol at 10 pm is not the best idea; neither are stimulating meals that contain spicy foods, onions or peppers, which can give you indigestion and delay the onset of sleep.
As a general rule, you should try to avoid the following foods late at night:
Fatty foods may cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty in falling asleep and discomfort throughout the night.
Foods containing tyramine (bacon, cheese, ham, aubergines (eggplant), pepperoni, raspberries, avocado, soy sauce, red wine) might keep you awake at night. Tyramine causes the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant.
This is the most widely used drug in the world, and probably the most socially acceptable, but its effect should not be underestimated. Reactions to caffeine differ depending on a person’s sensitivity, but is safe to say that the older you are, the greater its effect.
Caffeine stays in the body long after we feel the initial boost in energy and improved concentration that it gives. Treat it with caution. About 99 per cent of the caffeine contained in a drink will enter your bloodstream.
On the positive side, it can generate sensations of increased alertness and enhance performance in mental and physical tasks. On the negative side, it can create or exacerbate sensations of anxiety, depression, restlessness, headaches, flushes, tremors, heartburn and aggravate high blood pressure. It also has a profound effect on our ability to sleep, which is often the reason it is so popular in the first place.
Caffeine enters the blood stream quickly (in about five minutes) and its effects are felt for between 15 and 45 minutes. It then takes between three and seven hours for half of it to be filtered out of your blood stream.
For most people, the remaining half is filtered out overnight, which is why addicts are often reaching for the coffee filters before they have even changed out of their pajamas. As well as your waking time, caffeine also effects your sleeping time. It suppresses feelings of sleepiness and pushes back the time you hit the pillow, in which case that last coffee or tea of your working day keeps you perky for much longer than you would often hope for.
Remember that, as well as coffee and tea, caffeine is also found in cola drinks, chocolate, cocoa, energy drinks, and even some cold remedies and headache and painkillers. Make sure, if you do want to give up, that you don’t just end up reaching for it in other forms.
Life After Caffeine
If you believe that some of the symptoms caused by caffeine are affecting your quality of life, the good news is that caffeine leaves your system quickly. Detoxing from it might give you a nasty headache for a few days, with some irritability and nausea, but you should be able to cope. Increase your daily intake of water and fresh juices to help flush caffeine out, and deal with the temptation by making herbal tea instead; this means you won’t have to miss out on the sensation of a comforting warm drink as you work or relax. lf you would like to keep coffee as part of your daily life, give yourself a cut-off time of, say, noon to allow the caffeine adequate time to leave your system.
Substitute water for the coffee, tea and carbonated cola drinks in your diet – a sprig of mint or a little lemon or lime juice will make it less bland.
This is the largest preventable cause of death in our society, yet it still plays a huge part in many people’s lives. It is a major cause of cancer in the lungs and heart, heart disease and high blood pressure – the risks are manifold. Smokers might cite suppressed appetite (they tend to be an average of 5-10|b (2.2-4.5 kg) lighter than nonsmokers) and increased memory ability as bonuses, but the undisputed deterioration of their overall health is a high price to pay.
Smokers might also note that the good sleep quality they lack thanks to the nicotine in their body could help them to maintain a good weight and memory recall without the health hazard. Unfortunately, the highly addictive nature of nicotine stops many people from acknowledging the risks. Like most drugs, the pleasant, calming sensation created after the initial intake can turn into a jittery, angst-ridden feeling if you don’t keep the levels in your body up.
Smokers are statistically more likely to drink more caffeine, which only compounds the side effect of destroying sleep quality. Smoking also affects blood sugar levels, which makes you irritable and prone to sugar cravings. As a stimulant, nicotine acts on the central nervous system and delays sleep as well as increasing the frequency of night-time wakings, which results in a light and less refreshing sleep. Anyone who lives with a heavy smoker and suffers from poor sleep may also be experiencing the effects of passive smoking on their systems. Although alcohol can often help you to fall asleep, it also makes you wake more frequently during the night.
Life After Nicotine
Giving up is hard, but the health benefits will more than outweigh the effort you put in. When inhaled, nicotine quickly stimulates the heart, brain, gastro-intestinal tract and adrenal glands, giving the buzz or peak in alertness that comes with a drag on a cigarette. As it is a brain stimulant, it can stop the onset of sleep, but also increase the number of night-time wakings and shorten the duration of sleep; and remember, if it is affecting your sleep, it will affect that of your partner and children, too, as they passively inhale your smoke. Initially, those giving up smoking will experience disturbed sleep from the nicotine withdrawal, but patches and supplements can help ease this transition. Once you are past this point, you will be rewarded with a much deeper and nourishing sleep, as will anyone else In your home.
A great deal of self-deception is at work when people use the term ‘nightcap’ to describe alcohol. Although, as a sedative, it helps you to fall to sleep by making you feel drowsy, it then proceeds to ruin the rest of your night.
Drinking is a hugely popular aid to relaxation, especially for those working long and strenuous hours. Those who drink on an empty stomach will feel the sensation quicker, as drinking with or after food can delay its effects for up to an hour and a half. How tired you are when you start drinking is also important. After five nights of partial sleep deprivation, three drinks will have the same effect on your body as six would have on a regular night.
lf you find the sedative effect more pronounced after drinking during the day, this is because it exaggerates the natural ebb and flow of your circadian rhythm. The energy lull you feel in the afternoon becomes more pronounced, whereas you are naturally more alert in the evening, so its drowsy effects are less dramatic.
We all know the general results of drinking, but its impact on sleep is often ignored. Even a small amount of alcohol can change the type of sleep quality we have. REM sleep and the length of sleep we have are reduced, with more wakings and shallow sleep, which results in an unrefreshing sleep. It also has a detrimental effect on sleep conditions, such as apnea and snoring, making both more pronounced. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which means it encourages you to urinate, which is never welcome when you are trying to sleep.
Life after Alcohol
The benefits of regularly drinking a small amount of alcohol, such as a glass of red wine with a meal, are well recognized – the wine contains antioxidant properties and plays a role in helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. lf drinking plays a larger part in your life, however, you must allow your liver at least four days off a week in order for it to recover and clear out the toxins. Nights off will also allow you to attain deeper, and more refreshing sleep, giving you the chance to clear the sleep deficit it inflicts.
You will also see the benefit to your skin as eye- bags and skin problems caused by drinking will clear. And don’t forget the essential glass of water between drinks; avoiding dehydration will stop you waking at 4 am, desperate for a glass of water, and then finding yourself unable to get back to sleep.
Improved skin tone, less visible bags beneath the eyes, increased energy levels and unbroken sleep are just some of the benefits that a break from alcohol can provide.
The highs and lows that go with sugar addiction or dependence can make you feel hyper and then exhausted, all within a matter of hours.