Health & Fitness Coach, Employee Wellness - Eat Clean, Get Fit, Be Healthy in NH
Before you reach for a sleep aid, make sure you’re not doing any of these things that keep you awake and disrupt your sleep/wake cycles.
Did you know that caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours? That means if you drink a cup of coffee (a strong 8-ounce cup typically contains about 300 mg of caffeine) at 6 o’clock at night, you’ll still have 150 mg of caffeine in your blood stream at midnight, when you should be fast asleep. Instead of being in a relaxed state when your growth and repair hormones are being released, you’ll have caffeine stimulating your adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is an activating hormone that basically tells your body it’s time to be active and alert!
If you want to get a good night’s sleep, ideally, you should avoid anything with caffeine after lunch--that means no coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate!
Indulge in Sweets
Sugar, like caffeine, is a stimulant that ultimately triggers the release of cortisol. Here’s how: Let’s say you eat some sweets right before bed. As you’re trying to fall asleep, your blood sugar levels spike. Your body responds to this sugar high by releasing insulin, a hormone that rapidly reduces your blood sugar le"vels, and ultimately results in a blood sugar crash or hypoglycemic state. This nighttime hypoglycemia can happen while you’re sleeping, which can cause you to wake up suddenly.
Your body perceives hypoglycemia as a very stressful situation and acts very quickly to get more sugar to your brain. After all, your brain needs some sugar to function—otherwise you’d go into a coma. In response to this emergency, your body releases stress hormones, one of them being cortisol, which then instructs your body to release stored sugar (glycogen) from your liver to elevate your blood sugar levels again.
Eating sweets triggers the sugar-fix cycle because once in a hypoglycemic state, the typical response is to eat something stimulating and sweet. That last thing you want to do before bed is to start this vicious cycle, so reserve the sweets for an early afternoon treat not a bedtime snack.
Drinking alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, also impacts your blood sugar levels. Alcohol is rapidly absorbed through your stomach and small intestine. Alcoholic beverages, especially ones with sugar added, cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. As you know, this causes your pancreas to release insulin to balance your blood sugar levels, which ultimately leaves you hypoglycemic.
Something else to consider is that drinking alcoholic beverages regularly without consuming protein and fat (which slows the absorption), can cause damage to the linings of your stomach and small intestine. Over time, this may contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
Eat Heavy Meals
You may find that when you eat a lot of food before bed that you have a hard time sleeping at night. When you lie down to go to sleep after eating, your body is not in the most ideal state to digest your food because your digestion slows down.
If you get hungry before bed, eat a small snack that has some protein and fat with some complex carbohydrates—not something that is processed like crackers, cereal or bread (these foods convert to sugar quickly leading to nighttime hypoglycemia.)
My favorite bedtime snack is half of a sliced green apple with 2 tbsp raw almond butter for dipping. It’s satisfying, healthy and light.
If you’re someone who wakes up to go to the bathroom during the night, here is a simple tip to fix your problem: Stop drinking liquids 2-4 hours before bed. Everyone is different, so the time you need stop drinking liquids will vary. I find that I have to stop drinking water 4 hours before bed in order to prevent waking up to use the bathroom.
Waking up to go to the bathroom each night may not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind that while you sleep, your body releases repair hormones. Every time you wake up—even if you fall right back asleep—you interrupt your sleep/wake cycles, ultimately depriving your body of much-needed recovery time.
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To a restful night’s sleep,