For most of us, one of the most frustrating things that can happen in the midst of a busy schedule is insomnia, the inability to fall or stay asleep. Despite widely held beliefs, insomnia in the long or short term has no permanent psychological effects. This does not mean however, that it can’t have a direct effect on your health.
Conversely, several external factors, which are typically under your control, can and often do, directly affect the quality of your sleep, whether you can fall asleep and whether you can stay asleep. The occasional sleepless night isn’t unusual but it can lead to significant frustration that can lead to, well, an inability to sleep.
Caffeine, Insomnia and Sleep Quality.
Nutrition plays a critical role in affecting the quality and duration of your sleep. We’ve all probably heard that drinking a beverage that contains caffeine is a quick way to prevent sleep. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that increases mental alertness; the last thing you want when you’re trying to wind down. A 2004 article published in “Diabetes Care” found that caffeine intake is correlated with a reduction in insulin sensitivity, which allows blood glucose to course through the body longer. This increased and prolonged concentration of glucose can in turn lead to decreased ability to fall and stay asleep, as well as increased levels of hormones like adrenaline.
High Intake of Simple Carbohydrate Foods and Sleep Quality.
Chronically high intake of simple carbohydrate foods that are also typically high in sugar, also increase the production of adrenaline. Produced by your adrenal glands, you only have a certain capacity to create adrenaline, a hormone that is most commonly associated with reactions to stress. Adrenaline prepares your body for fight or flight, increasing critical processes like heart rate and respiration so that you can ward off a threat. Threats to you however aren’t necessarily inherently dangerous but your body can’t differentiate and the reaction is the same. Your adrenal glands can’t produce adrenaline at a consistently high level forever and the demand quickly exceeds the production, leading to a condition known as adrenal exhaustion. You’ll sleep for sure with this condition, because you’ll feel tired nearly all the time. Unfortunately, the quality of your sleep won’t be high quality or restful.
Sugar Addiction: A Real Condition That Can Really Affect Sleep.
The term “sugar addiction” has been a source of wide controversy in both the medical and nutritional fields. Professionals had originally vehemently denied that you could become physically or psychologically addicted to sugar however research is showing increasing support for this condition. A 2009 article published in “Neuroscience Behavioral Review” explains that sugar addiction, much like any other type of addiction, can lead to serious health consequences. In the case of sleep, sugar can cause an immediate impairment in your ability to fall or stay asleep. Even if you do get to sleep, your body continues to release large amounts of hormones in response to the sugar intake. These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol, which, among other mechanisms, are released in response to stress. Your body, as you try to sleep, lives in a chronic state of feeling like you’re literally going to die and imagine trying to sleep when you’re prepared to protect yourself from mortal danger.
Taking Back Your Sleep.
Perhaps the easiest way to improve your ability to fall and stay asleep and to maintain a higher quality of sleep is to decrease or avoid the consumption of simple carbohydrates, particularly high sugar foods. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, since it’s been established that addiction to sugar is a very real condition. Sugar addiction, according to a 2006 article published in “Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews,” occurs because sugar causes increases in the neurotransmitters dopamine and natural opioids. Mental health professionals tend to agree that because these substances are so addictive, their sources can’t simply be discontinued without adverse effects, including rebound insomnia. Instead, a gradual replacement of simple carbohydrate foods with complex carbohydrates can make for an easier transition.
Additionally, regular physical activity is critical, not only for improved glucose regulation but also for decreasing stress, cortisol and adrenaline levels. Exercise, even if it’s in the form of a brisk walk, vastly improves mood and the quality of your sleep. You’ll fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer and the quality of your sleep will improve.
Aside from improving your nutritional habits and increasing your level of activity, certain supplements such as chromium, glutamine and magnesium have been shown to help stabilize blood glucose levels. This, in turn, can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay there.
Sleep is a science in and of itself, but because each person’s body chemistry is unique, the minimum effective amount of any supplement is dependent on a number of factors and should be determined with the guidance of a healthcare professional.