5 simple ways to prevent sleep deprivation

Ways that diet and exercise help to prevent sleep deprivation

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@MariannaKilburn
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04 December 2019

Sleep deprivation in the UK

The Great British Bedtime Report (2017) found that 74% of Brits sleep for less than seven hours per night and 12% of Brits only sleep for five hours or less. The study also found that 30% of Brits often get a poor night's sleep.Sleep deprivation can affect your overall health and mood and cause symptoms like fatigue, yawning, low mood, lack of motivation and poor concentration. These symptoms can be managed or prevented by:

  • Consuming foods that contain melatonin and serotonin
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Avoiding foods that are high in fat before going to sleep
  • Participating in regular physical exercise.

1. Consuming melatonin and serotonin-rich foods

Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced at night and plays a key role in adjusting your body clock, indicating when it is time to go to sleep. If your melatonin levels are low, you might struggle to wind down and feel sleepy at night, which could lead to sleep deprivation.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls the sleeping and waking cycle, and helps to keep us happy and energised. Low serotonin levels can result in poor sleep and low mood. Your body converts tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin. I've included a handy table below to help you identify which foods contain melatonin and serotonin.

Hormone Food
Melatonin Montmorency cherry juice, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumber, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
Serotonin Cottage cheese, bananas, poultry, chickpeas, cashew nuts and kiwis.

Research has found that drinking tart Montmorency cherry juice for one week significantly increased melatonin production as well as increasing total sleep time.Additionally, research has found that consuming two kiwis one hour before going to bed for four weeks can help increase total sleeping time.So, if you're struggling with a sleep disorder, consider eating some of these foods before going to sleep.

2. Reducing caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that promotes alertness and is found in coffee beans and tea leaves. Caffeine affects your body in several ways:

  • Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. During waking hours, adenosine levels increase. As levels increase, you tend to feel more tired and less alert. Caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors but makes you feel more awake and alert.
  • Caffeine increases dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that activates pleasure in areas of the brain. High levels of dopamine are associated with feeling good and satisfied. Dopamine also prompts you to consume more caffeine to increase satisfaction, thereby causing a vicious circle of making you drink more caffeine in order to feel good, but making it harder to sleep.
  • Caffeine also prevents melatonin production which can affect your sleep-wake cycle.

So, caffeine intake can affect the body by making you feel more awake and causing you difficulty when trying to get to sleep. If you're struggling with sleep deprivation, it's best to avoid caffeine.

As an alternative, why not try some chamomile tea? Chamomile contains an antioxidant called apigenin which binds to receptors in the brain that help aid sleep and reduce anxiety. If you're not a fan of chamomile tea, why not try some lemon balm tea? It tastes lovely and refreshing!

3. Reducing alcohol

Do you use alcohol as a sleep aid? The 2017 Great British Bedtime Report found that 25% of Brits admitted to having a little bedtime tipple to help them sleep.1 Although alcohol can help you to fall asleep, it does not guarantee a good night's sleep!

Firstly, alcohol prevents you from reaching REM sleep early in the night, meaning that your body will have to catch up later, causing you to spend more time in a deep sleep known as short wave length sleep.

Your body then tries to make up for the lost stages of REM sleep, leading to frequent waking, restless sleep and possibly nightmares. Also, REM sleep helps to boost memory and concentration. So, after a night on the booze you may feel sluggish, therefore making it harder to focus and concentrate.

Secondly, alcohol may cause loud snoring and could contribute to sleep apnoea (a common sleep disorder). The sedative effects from alcohol relax your jaw and throat muscles. As a result, these muscles collapse as you breathe, causing snoring. This may lead to sleep apnoea if you regularly consume excessive amounts of alcohol.

Finally, consuming alcohol can lead to frequent trips to the bathroom since alcohol is a diuretic (a substance that increases urine production). Alcohol decreases the release of vasopressin (a hormone that regulates the amount of water in your body) which results in your body flushing out water much faster than normal. Ultimately, this leads to an increased urinary output and dehydration. If you are dehydrated, you may suffer from a headache, which could impact your sleep as well as -making you feel terrible the next morning!

So, if you are struggling with sleep deprivation, it's best to avoid consuming alcohol before going to sleep. Why not try some Montmorency cherry juice? As previously mentioned, this has been shown to increase total sleeping time.


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4. Avoiding fatty foods before bed

Trans fatty acids and saturated fats are known as "bad fats" and tend to be found in fried or heavily processed foods. These should be avoided before bed time since they cause digestion issues which may impact your sleep.

Fatty foods can prevent the lower oesophageal sphincter from closing properly. This can causes the stomach acid to back- up in the oesophagus, ultimately leading to acid reflux (heartburn).

Furthermore, fatty foods are harder to digest and can delay the stomach emptying process, causing symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain. If you are experiencing these symptoms before going to bed, you may struggle to sleep. Therefore, it is best to avoid consuming bad fats before bed time.

As well as this, avoid eating foods high in salt before going to bed. Having a diet that is high in sodium may affect your circadian rhythm.4 So, if you find yourself eating crisps or salted nuts before going to bed, why not swap them for sunflower seeds instead? As I've mentioned above, these contain melatonin, which may help you sleep better.

5. Exercise regularly

Exercise is great for your mind as well as your body! Physical activity reduces adrenaline and cortisol levels. These hormones are released when the body is under stress. We already know that there is a vicious cycle between stress and poor sleep, so a reduction in these hormone levels may help to reduce stress and promote better sleep.

Additionally, during exercise, your brain produces more endorphins. These are the "feel-good" neurotransmitters that reduce pain and boost pleasure, resulting in a feeling of well-being. Endorphins have been directly linked to reducing stress and anxiety.5

Aerobic exercises help to raise levels of endorphins in the body and gets the heart pumping. Research has found that regular aerobic exercise has a positive effect on sleep quality in older adults with insomnia.6 This study focused on all types of aerobic exercise, including:

  • Swimming – this is a great exercise that can make your body feel more relaxed and soothe your mind, therefore, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Also, the colour blue is associated with calmness and relaxation,7 another reason why swimming has a positive impact on your mind.
  • Brisk walking – Brisk walking for ten minutes daily can help to boost your health as well as improving sleep. Research has found that walking 10,000 steps daily for four weeks helped to increase total sleep time.8
  • Cycling – During exercise, tryptophan is released into the blood. As previously mentioned, tryptophan is converted into serotonin and then melatonin which both plays a key role in controlling the sleep/waking cycle. Therefore, cycling may be a natural way to boost your serotonin levels and help you to get to sleep.

If you're looking for some aerobic exercises to do from home? Check out our endurance videos!

So, what can you take away from this blog?

Sleep deprivation is common in the UK and it can be caused by factors such as stress or possibly an undiagnosed sleep disorder. Sleep deprivation can be managed and prevented by diet and lifestyle choices. If you are suffering from sleep deprivation and suspect that it's because of an undiagnosed sleeping disorder, speak to your doctor.

References

  1. https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report-2017.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22038497
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21669584
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02161-4
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2992829/
  7. http://journals.christuniversity.in/index.php/ushus/article/view/1761/1508
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093382/

What you said

We recently ran a poll to find out what is your most common sleep deprivation symptom. We've crunched the numbers and here are the results.

Results: What is your most common sleep deprivation symptom?

Fatigue is a common symptom of sleep deprivation, so it's no wonder that the majority of you agreed that it's your most common symptom!

 

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