A good day starts the night before. 

Sleep is a translation from your subconscious of how you conduct your daily life. Being a life-long learner means actively taking responsibility for one’s actions while being openminded to new ways of taking care of our future self.  

Let’s take a look at a couple of legal drugs that are often consumed as a social right of passage or a mark of high performance in our busy, modern culture. Unfortunately, overconsumption of either of these two substances causes negative effects on the brain–especially when it comes to your sleep and, therefore, your mind health.

Alcohol

To understand how alcohol impacts sleep, we look to the experts at the Sleep Foundation to describe the 4 stages of sleep.

A normal sleep cycle consists of four different stages: three non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages and one rapid eye movement (REM) stage.

Stage 1 (NREM): This initial stage is essentially the transition period between wakefulness and sleep, during which the body will begin to shut down. The sleeper’s heart beat, breathing, and eye movements start to slow down and their muscles will relax. Brain activity also begins to decrease, as well. This phase is also known as light sleep.

Stage 2 (NREM): The sleeper’s heartbeat and breathing rates continue to slow down as they progress toward deeper sleep. Their body temperature will also decrease and the eyes become still. Stage 2 is usually the longest of the four sleep cycle stages.

Stages 3 (NREM): Heartbeat, breathing rates, and brain activity all reach their lowest levels of the sleep cycle. Eye movements cease and the muscles are totally relaxed. This stage is known as slow-wave sleep.

REM: REM sleep kicks in about 90 minutes after the individual initially falls asleep. Eye movements will restart and the sleeper’s breathing rate and heartbeat will quicken. Dreaming mostly takes place during REM sleep. This stage is also thought to play a role in memory consolidation.

These four NREM and REM stages repeat in cyclical fashion throughout the night. Each cycle should last roughly 90-120 minutes, resulting in four to five cycles for every eight hours of sleep. 

Drinking alcohol before bed can be detrimental to sleep and, as we know, sleep doesn’t get easier as we age. Since alcohol is a sedative, it’s been coined the “night cap”. Unfortunately, when consumed close to bedtime, it can cause us to fall asleep quickly yet create more sleep disruptions, decreasing overall sleep quality. To reduce the risk of sleep disruptions, you should stop drinking alcohol at least four hours before bedtime.  

Caffeine

Caffeine has been called the most popular drug in the world. It is found naturally in over 60 plants including the coffee bean, tea leaf, kola nut and cacao pod. All over the world people consume caffeine on a daily basis in coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, some soft drinks and some drugs.

Because caffeine is a stimulant, most people use it after waking up in the morning or to remain alert during the day. While it is important to note that caffeine cannot replace sleep, it can temporarily make us feel more alert by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production.

There is no nutritional need for caffeine in the diet. Moderate caffeine intake, however, is not associated with any recognized health risk. Three 8-ounce cups of coffee (250 milligrams of caffeine) per day is considered a moderate amount of caffeine. Six or more 8-ounce cups of coffee per day is considered excessive intake of caffeine.

Today caffeine has become a key component of our sleep-deprived culture. But when taken too late in the day — when we are trying to fight off that afternoon slump — caffeine hinders our ability to fall asleep at night. As a result, we are even more tired the next day. So we reach for another caffeinated beverage in an endless sleep-deprived cycle. Sleep experts recommend we stop consuming caffeine after 2pm.

What are caffeine’s effects on the body?

  • It stimulates your central nervous system, providing you a jolt of energy and increased alertness. 
  • It acts as a diuretic, which means it helps your body get rid of extra salt and water by increasing the urge to urinate. 
  • It increases your blood pressure.
  • It may interfere with the absorption of calcium in the body. 
  • It can boost the metabolic rate and increase fat burning, but after a while, this effect diminishes as the body becomes tolerant in long-term caffeine users. 

Caffeine metabolism varies from person to person. Some people can just naturally handle more caffeine than others. This is because every individual has a unique caffeine metabolism that is influenced by a variety of factors, such as age, sex and hormones, weight, smoking, diet, medications and more. 

Napping

One thing is certain, we are all in search of the holy grail of energy. Unfortunately, habitually relying on night caps and caffeinated concoctions come with negative side-effects. One of the most powerful habits we can create is napping. Turns out, the overall benefits of napping to our brainpower are massive, especially the older we get. If napping is considered a sign of personal failure or moral weakness, you are not alone. A growing body of science makes it clear: Breaks are not a sign of sloth but a sign of strength. If including a cup of coffee might entice you, try a nappuccino. If you find that its just hard to shut off your mind for a nap, try Alicia’s Power Nap meditation for a perfect reset.

References:

Pink, Daniel. (2018). When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Riverhead Books.

https://fullscript.com/blog/caffeine

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep

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