Suggestions for modifying the amounts and timing of using these substances are part of “sleep hygiene” which we will explore in more depth next week when we take a closer look at some sleep solutions!
For many, alcoholic beverages tend to be relaxing and induce drowsiness. However, later in the night, as alcohol is metabolized, it leads to restless and disturbed sleep. The result is a far less refreshing sleep. Therefore drinking alcohol close to bedtime is generally discouraged.
Caffeine is a relatively long-acting stimulant whose effects may last for several hours after it is consumed. People differ greatly in the rate at which caffeine affects them and as a result, in the length of time during which it might impact their sleep. On average, 4–5 hours after a modest amount of caffeine has been consumed, about half the amount of caffeine continues to act as a stimulant in our brains. This activity may last even longer after higher levels of intake and in individuals who are particularly sensitive to its effects, including older adults. We therefore recommend limiting consumption of caffeinated beverages to the equivalent of no more than three, eight- ounce cups daily and avoiding consumption after lunch.
Cravings for nicotine can occur during the middle of night because nicotine has a short half- life of approximately 2 hours and therefore leaves the body fairly quickly. As the body breaks down nicotine, a person experiences withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation and tension. This leads to the consumption of more nicotine in order to reduce these symptoms. In other words, each dose of nicotine relaxes the tension and agitation that were produced by withdrawal from the previous nicotine consumption. This means that rather than relaxing tension from everyday stresses, nicotine only treats the tension and agitation that resulted from withdrawal from the previous intake. Because of this, if you smoke, it is best to avoid smoking at least two hours before bedtime.
Exercise too close to bedtime may have a negative impact on sleep. This is associated with the fact that exercise is activating. Exercise raises an our core body temperature and therefore may interfere with the daily drop in temperature before bedtime that supports sleep. For these reasons exercise should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Gentle stretching exercises before bedtime are OK and may, in fact, be relaxing and, possibly even, supportive of sleep.
A heavy meal close to bedtime may lead to indigestion and sometimes reflux during the night, both of which may cause arousal in our physiology. The process of falling asleep slows down the digestive system. Because of this, going to bed before food is fully digested is a poor sleep practice and eating a heavy meal should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Because feeling hungry may also interfere with sleep, a light snack can be OK. Eating in the middle of the night is also not a good idea because it sends alerting signals to our brain and can prolong the time you are awake.
Now, we’ve spent some time looking at how sleep works for us and why it’s important to support our best sleep on a regular basis. We’ve also started taking a look at how some things in our day to day lives can get in the way of us getting some good, quality, restful sleep. Next time, we will go through some best practices for promoting our best sleep so that we can wake up feeling refreshed, energized, calm, and ready to celebrate our life everyday!
If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.
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