You may think you’ve got your sleep routine locked down; scented candles, less technology, whale noises chirping in the background, but have you given any thought to what you are drinking? Of course caffeine gives us energy, but how do you know when to stop with the flat whites so you can get a peaceful nights sleep?
From the minute we wake up we fuel our bodies throughout the day with freshly brewed coffee, smoothies, juices and happy hour cocktails and there is a lot of research out there to suggest that if we want to get a more restful and restorative sleep, we should be paying attention to what we consume a lot more.
Here is a little look at which of your favourite beverages will help you drift off peacefully and which will leave you tossing and turning all night.
COOL IT WITH CAFFEINE
It will come as no surprise to most people that caffeine can have a huge effect on our sleep and sleeping patterns. Caffeine is a stimulant which can help to make you feel more alert and active and reduce tiredness or feeling drowsy. If you are looking to fall asleep quickly then the best advice is not to have any caffeine in the form of tea, coffee or energy drinks right before bed.
However, research shows that caffeine can have a huge impact on our sleep even if consumed hours before we want to get some rest, meaning it is not just our pre-bedtime routine we should be considering. It can actually take up to six hours for only half the caffeine in a caffeinated beverage to be eliminated, and then a further six hours for half again to leave our system. This means if you have a coffee at 4pm to help with the afternoon slump, by 10pm you could still have half the caffeine from your latte pumping around your body which has the ability to disrupt your sleep.
To help minimise sleep disturbance, try and steer clear of caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime and preferably switch to something decaffeinated as you start to move into the afternoon.
PUT THE KETTLE ON
Whilst caffeine is a hot drink which can cause havoc on your sleep time, some hot drinks can actually help to improve it. Herbal teas such as chamomile are favoured by many as they help to reduce anxiety and stress. Chamomile’s soothing effect helps to quiet your mind and sets you up for a good nights sleep. Peppermint is another tea which has similar effects as chamomile as well as being excellent at settling your digestive system which can aid sleep. However make sure to watch out for hidden caffeine in certain herbal blends – many green teas are actually very high in caffeine and will have similar effects to drinking a cup of regular breakfast tea before bed.
If you are a fan of something a little more nostalgic before bed, you are in luck, as a mug of hot milk may also help you drift off peacefully. Calcium helps to stabilise nerve fibres and reduce stress which ultimately helps to promote a restful night’s sleep. This is where a hot cocoa could also help you wind down and sleep better, but beware, this is not to be confused with hot chocolate. Hot chocolate or drinking chocolate contains all the sugars, caffeine and fat from the cocoa butter which can impede on a good night’s sleep. Hot cocoa is a purer form but it still gives you a natural endorphin boost of serotonin and melatonin and the calming effects of hot milk which all come together to set you up for a restful night.
Whether you prefer a soothing herbal tea or a mug of hot cocoa, it is often the case that the ritual of drinking something warm before bed helps with your sleep. The ritual of having a hot drink is relaxing in its own right, which in turn promotes sleepiness and encourages your brain to wind down and drift off quicker.
BLAME IT ON THE JUICE
Hot drinks may be the preferred weapon of choice when we want to tackle getting some shut eye, but one surprise juice may also help our quest to fall asleep and stay asleep. Tart cherry juice is high in melatonin, a hormone produced by serotonin which helps to boost your mood. Going to bed happy is always going to help with sleep, but melatonin goes one step further as it helps to trigger sleep and regulate your internal clock. Having a glass or two a day, or even consuming whole tart cherries can help promote a better sleep cycle. Take caution when purchasing cherry juice, most supermarket juices are loaded with sugar and additives which will have the opposite effect on your sleep, make sure you find the purest and most organic form of juice.
DITCH THE NIGHTCAP
Fancy a nightcap? If you are serious about getting some shut eye it might be time to ditch the late night booze. Although we all know the feeling we get when we have had a few cocktails, we get drowsy, maybe drift off during our favourite Netflix show and sometimes even fall asleep quicker than normal, but this is a very short term effect. Over the course of the night alcohol can have a detrimental effect on our sleep causing us to wake up feeling groggy even when we have slept for longer. It can interrupt our circadian rhythm, so whilst we fall asleep quickly, it is common to wake up in the middle of the night throwing off our natural sleep cycles. Part of this is due to alcohol stimulating the conflicting delta and alpha activity in our brain whilst we sleep which can cause significant disturbance.
Alcohol can also block our REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep and considered the most restorative. When we have less time in REM sleep we wake up feeling over-tired and groggy. Boiling it down to some less scientific factors, drinking alcohol makes us need the toilet more during the night, meaning several trips to the loo during the night will wake us up more and disturb our sleep cycle. Let’s also not forget sadly how much sugar we consume from all those cocktails and bottles of wine, which can cause surges in our blood sugar and therefore impact our sleep.
The food and drink we consume throughout the day seem like such a small part of our routine, but it can be a big player when it comes to our sleep health. Although your restless nights might not be down purely to that coffee you had at 5pm, it can certainly help to make some adjustments to our caffeine and alcohol intake around bedtime to help you drift off easier.