Do you have an afternoon coffee or tea to combat drowsiness? Do you consume alcohol or believe nightcaps help with sleep? Do you check your phone for any last updates before you fall asleep? If you do any of these, you’re like almost all Americans. You partake in things for pleasure, or habit, or believe you’re helping yourself when in reality you’re doing more harm than good. What you consume hours before your bedtime can have a sizable impact on the duration and quality of your sleep. In this post, I’ll detail the four main sources of consumption that are wreaking havoc on your sleep.
Digital screens are being consumed more than ever. Not only do most of us have TVs in our bedrooms, but we fall asleep to Netflix shows, iPhone conversations, iPad books and social media on laptops. These digital screens emit lots of bright light which are throwing off our circadian rhythm (our internal 24hr clock) by as much as 3 hours. This is because in darkness, our body secretes melatonin which causes us to get sleepy. By using bright screens, our body still believes it’s day time and puts the brake on melatonin release keeping us alert and awake. One study showed that by reading a book on an iPad, compared to paperback, the secretion of melatonin was reduced by over 50%. So even though it may be 11pm, if you’ve been consuming digital content a lot, your body may believe its only 8pm. This can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
So, I’d recommend a few things:
- Don’t use any digital screens an hour before bedtime. Instead, opt for relaxing healthy habits like reading a paper book, taking a hot bath/shower or meditating.
- Keep screens out of the bedroom or at least away from the bed.
- Turn on blue light filters for your devices in the evenings. Windows 10 devices come with “Night Light” that can be configured. iPhones have “Night Shift”. Some TVs have settings too. Do whatever you can to limit blue light and opt for warm, non-bright digital light in the evenings.
Personally, consumption of digital content before bed has been difficult for me to limit. I have bad habits of blogging, watching TV or catching up on YouTube videos before bedtime. But, I’m working on fixing these habits by putting my phone on it’s charger a hour before bed, turning on night filters for all screens up to 3 hours before bedtime, and reading paper books instead instead of watching TV within a hour of bedtime. It’s something I’m hoping to improve upon more this year.
Caffeine is a daily driver for most people. The first thing most people do in the morning is have a cup of coffee. Then another once at work, another in the afternoon, and sometimes another in the evening. But, most people don’t realize that half of caffeine being consumed will still be active in the body 5 hours after consumption. And, 25% of caffeine will still be active 12 hours after consumption. That means if you consumed a cup of coffee at 7pm, 50% of it will still be in your body at midnight. And, if you have a noon coffee, 25% of that will still be in your body at midnight. The problem with caffeine is that it latches on to receptors that are usually welcoming a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical that builds up in your body throughout the day causing a pressure for you to sleep at night. Once you sleep, this chemical is cleared from the mind causing you to feel refreshed and awake again in the morning. But, by caffeine blocking these receptors, you don’t feel that sleep sense from adenosine. This means you’re more likely to stay awake longer, or if you try to sleep then you won’t fall into as deep of sleep and your sleep quality will be severely reduced. Therefore, if you’re going to consume caffeine (through coffee, tea, energy drinks, ice cream, etc.) then try to do it before noon. Personally, the only time I consume caffeine is with dark chocolate or the occasional tea. Otherwise, I try to avoid it altogether.
There are a lot of myths about alcohol. Most people think they sleep better once they’ve consumed it. This was even thought to be true by doctors decades ago who use to recommend alcohol to help with sleep. But after much research, the opposite has been proven to be true. Alcohol is a sedative. It doesn’t help put you to sleep. It helps put you into sedation. Rather than helping you fall asleep, it acts like anesthesia which is far from sleep. The sedation you’re put in lacks a lot of the quality brainwaves that usually occur during sleep. You also lose the ability to get quality REM sleep which is known to help with emotional control, creativity and wisdom. Not only does the quality of your sleep decrease, but it gets significantly fragmented too. With alcohol consumption, you don’t fall into a deep sleep. This means you’re more likely to wake frequently throughout the night whether you realize you’re awake or not.
One study tested the devastating effects alcohol has on sleep in regards to memory. The study had participants read a novel and then tested their proficiency. Then, they had all participants retest their proficiency a week later after 6 nights of sleep. All participants learned the material sober, and were tested sober. Test group 1 never consumed any alcohol throughout the 6 nights in between learning and testing. Their retested proficiency was the same as the day of initial learning (they hadn’t forgotten anything). Test group 2 consumed 2-3 servings of alcohol before their first night of sleep and then was sober the next 5 nights. Their retested proficiency was only 50% of what they initially learned. This one night of drinking caused them to forget half of what they learned. More surprising, was test group 3 who consumed 2-3 servings of alcohol before their third night of sleep but was sober all other nights. Even with two nights sober after learning, and 3 nights sober before testing, that one night of alcohol consumption in between caused them to forget 40% of what they learned initially. This one night of drinking, days after learning and days before testing, still caused them significant memory loss. That’s crazy.
Therefore, I don’t consume or recommend consuming alcohol ever. It degrades all the positive things sleep brings like memory, learning, creativity, wisdom, immunity and so much more.
Large and Unhealthy Meals
Lastly, eating large, spicy or unhealthy meals late at night can disrupt sleep too. If you’re eating a large, spicy or unhealthy meal, it’s likely going to be hard to digest. Digesting these meals can cause heartburn or acid reflux which can both wake you during the night. Consequently, I recommend consuming a small snack at least 45 minutes before bed. I like to do this with an evening smoothie bowl which is healthy, and lowers my internal body temperature which can aid sleep.
We’ve rarely if ever been educated on sleep. Because of this, most of us have come up with false beliefs on sleeping based on a few personal experiences. Since it’s easier to drift out of wakefulness with alcohol, we believe its a sleep aid. Since its more fun to fall asleep while watching a Netflix show, we believe its better to fall asleep to our favorite shows. But, when analyzing the facts, our consumption is significantly disrupting and limiting our sleep. Screen time, caffeine, alcohol and unhealthy meals are being consumed by almost all of us. It’s time we start limiting these unhealthy behaviors to facilitate one of the bodies healthiest processes. Sleep.
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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe
Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient and effective. I do this by covering topics like Cognitive Health, Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Financial Independence and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.
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