Fighting sleep: the losing battle

Picture of clock and bedside
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

18 August 2016

Sleep is one of the most important things you can do after breathing and eating. But a 24-hour society and increasing sleep problems means that we have left behind our established patterns and filled the market with energy-boosting products. 

In fact, who needs sleep when you can consume 242 mg of caffeine in one drink and vibrate your way through a working day? You can safely drink up to 400 mg of caffeine a day, but any more than that and you start piling pressure on your heart, with the added potential of extremely serious problems.

But what about sleep, the one thing these caffeine supplements are desperately trying to fight against for you? We can prolong the sleep/wake homeostasis period (that period when you start to feel sleepy), but this runs the risk of damaging your circadian biological clock and its associated rhythms tied to the 24-hour day. 

Typically, you will feel the need to sleep between 2am-4am and 1pm-3pm. The latter is a bit more problematic for our CA Students given that they will need to be in class or at work!

Each person has a slightly different rhythm, resulting in the chronotypes of ‘morning people’ and ‘night owls’. It is believed that around one-fifth of humans fall into one of these categories; people with more extreme body clocks can go on to suffer from circadian rhythm sleep disorder. 

Teenagers enter a delayed sleep phase during puberty leading to sleep occurring much later in the night, around 11pm. The school day begins nine hours later and the resultant sleep debt starts to set us up for problems later in life.

You will always run up a sleep debt at some point in your week – it could be minor, or it could build up to you needing a semi-coma on non-work days.

Banish the neurotoxins

1. Put your phone on airplane mode

3G and 4G signals affect your brain. They restructure brain cells! It is thought that this prevents the brain from completing its clear out process. Set yourself a reminder to turn your signal off before you go to sleep. Also avoid using your phone, laptop, tablet or phone before bed – the blue light is a stimulant for our brain, and subconsciously tells us to wake-up.

2. Ditch the caffeine before lunch

That means if you want to hit the hay at 10pm, your last coffee drink should be 12pm! Even if it doesn’t feel it, the caffeine is working to keep you alert.

3. Less evening liquids

You’ll either a) need the toilet all night or b) you could drink something that interferes with sleep patterns, such as alcohol.  

4. Get your bedtime ritual sorted 

Do a bedside table zen garden, practice breathing exercises, whatever might instil a sense of calm.

5. Cool down

Around 60-67 degrees (15 Celsius to 19 Celsius) is the perfect sleeping temperature and there’s nothing worse than waking up drenched in sweat or frozen in place.

Copyright: KieferPix

Why it's so important:

Sleep triggers:

  • Growth hormone to repair and restore the body
  • Synthesis of necessary hormones such as testosterone
  • Memory consolidation
  • Growth of muscle
  • Brain detox

It is only in recent years that scientists discovered the brain has its own co-ordinated cleaning system. Just as internet browsers store images, info, files and cookies in its cache, so does our brain, and we all know the benefits of regularly clearing down caches to speed up system performance.

Your brain can only trigger this process when you are asleep, and during the early hours of the morning. What is interesting, is that this process only triggers during these hours, so night-shift workers, for example, will not experience the same benefit when they sleep as it is not aligned to the natural progression of daylight.

The ‘errant’ thoughts and cells build up like a plaque and can be toxic. In turn, this toxicity can lead to neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

There are ways to improve your sleep patterns and nudge your circadian rhythm back into alignment, but it’s recommended that you contact your doctor if a sleep issue has become a chronic problem. 

You may be able to attend your local sleep clinic to monitor your brain and body function when you sleep and identify associated issues such as sleep apnoea or insomnia.

Topics

  • CA Student blog

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