While recently watching a TV show that examines the wonderful world of advertising, a spoof ad proposed that the imminent threat to the worlds’ coffee crop from the loss of honey bees, would result in our chronically sleep deprived society descending into inattentive zombie like chaos.
Yikes! An unbearable thought for those of us unable to even contemplate the prospect of not having that morning cup of java to kick-start our working day, and a living hell for everyone else having to put up with our cranky and irritable decaffeinated behaviour.
But is this true?
What if our caffeine dependent existence is but an illusion, and what if we could overcome our chronic sleep debt with some carefully invested sleep credits?
Is it time to call it quits?
Every day Australians drink 2 million cups of coffee. It’s the world’s most widely consumed legal psychostimulant and we love it. We love the aroma, the taste and its pick-me-up effect.
Cognitively, it increases the rate of neuronal firing and stimulates the release of adrenaline, which is what makes us feel more alert.
The downside is that increasing neuronal activity quickly drains our mental resources, so we seek to boost our energy levels with another cup, leading to the development of a negative feedback loop where our ongoing caffeine consumption creates peaks and troughs of energy and growing fatigue.
But doesn’t coffee improve our performance?
Sadly no and if you can get past the nasty caffeine withdrawal affects of a stinky headache and extreme lethargy, you’ll notice that your mental performance is no better and no worse for going caffeine free.
Dang! There goes another theory.
The buzz and your genes. The fast and slow of coffee metabolism.
We’ve all met the person hypersensitive to caffeine. One whiff and they’re palpitating and unable to sleep for a week, and then there are those others like my husband who claims he can drink coffee any time day or night without any adverse effect on his sleep pattern whatsoever.
The fact he is a chronic insomniac falls on deaf ears as he claims coffee makes his sleeping no better or worse.
Is he right?
He could well be – but don’t tell him that. It turns out our genes have a role to play in determining which of us are fast or slow caffeine metabolisers. Forty percent of us are fast metabolisers, clearing caffeine rapidly from our system.
Meanwhile 15% are ‘slow’ metabolisers, and 45% of us are half and half. As it takes six hours to eradicate 50% of the caffeine from our body, that’s we’re advised to limit our caffeinated beverages to the morning.
Life isn’t always fair.
It’s because caffeine competes with adenosine, a naturally occurring brain chemical that is produced in increasing amounts across the day and prepares us for sleep by slowing down neuronal activity.
The receptors for the adenosine molecule on our neurons work like a look and key mechanism and caffeine fits these like a glove, meaning adenosine is then unable to exert its effect.
So caffeine will help keep you awake and alert, which can be useful when you’re tired, bored or your work is tedious and the effect is dose and gene related.
But we can’t rely on caffeine to overcome our daytime sleepiness find that cognitive edge. This is where those wise investments in sleep credits come to the fore.
Your cognitive futures and stocking up on sleep credits.
Getting by on less sleep and feeling proud of it is just plain delusionary but maybe not surprising, as the first insight we lose when tired, is just how tired we are.
On average many of us get less than 6 hours of sleep at night during the week. If you need 8 hours to function at your best, there’s no way you can catch up on the additional 14 hours required to get back to base over the weekend.
Its time to place a high value on your sleep and keep your sleep stocks high.
Sign up to become a pro-sleep activist
This begins with assessing how much sleep you need and how much you’re getting before formulating your individual buy-back plan.
There are a number of ways you can achieve this.
- Adopt good sleep hygiene recommendations including keeping the bedroom cool (around 19Degrees C) dark and comfortable to ensure you get 7-8 hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep each night.
- Keep to a routine of a regular going to bed and getting up time.
- Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only.
- Keep all technology including digital clocks, T.V. computer, tablet and smartphone out of the bedroom and turn ALL technology off 60-90 minutes before bedtime.
- Fur babies large and small do not need to sleep in your bed. Fido and Tiddles can sleep quite safely elsewhere, preferably not in your bedroom.
- If your partner snores, or you do, make sure you don’t have a problem such as sleep apnoea, which requires medical attention.
- Avoid stimulants; alcohol, smoking and coffee in the evening that can disturb sleep patterns.
- If sleep deprived, take the 20-minute, three-week challenge of going to bed twenty minutes earlier than normal to see what difference you notice with your mood and thinking skills. You may be pleasantly surprised at just how much more awake, attentive and productive you are.
- Discuss whether having a nap room in the workplace is suitable or appropriate. If tired, a 20-minute nap in the early afternoon is an effective cognitive refresher to boost your attention and thinking. This is where coffee can be useful. Taking a nappacinno is where you consume a cup of coffee just prior to taking your nap. As it takes 20 minutes for the caffeine effect to kick in, you get an extra alert zap when you wake up.
- Discourage all-nighters unless it’s an emergency (as in a real life or death emergency for the company’s survival) just don’t. One night’s lost sleep can take you 6 weeks to fully recover.
- Encourage regular brain breaks during the day to refresh, reboot energy and focus. Even taking a few moments to press pause and gaze out the window helps.
- Take regular time out from work to engage in creative activities to stop you thinking about work 24/7
- Schedule chill out time with relaxation, breathing, Yoga and meditation. These all help to lower stress levels and promote better sleep patterns.
- Engage in regular as in daily physical exercise. Regular huff n’puff, stretching and resistance training all assist sleep.
- Keep your caffeine intake to less than 300-400mgs per day – that’s 3-4 cups of coffee depending on how strong you take it and drink it in the morning.
Choosing to sleep longer gains us credits in terms of brain function.
One study found this led to an increase in grey matter volume in the medial PFC, higher emotional intelligence and improved mental health. All of which is enormously helpful when dealing with our highly complex, complicated and fast paced world.
The pay back of your wise investments in sleep stocks includes improved efficiency, effectiveness and performance, greater creativity and insight, improved focus and fewer mistakes. It also facilitates better emotional regulation – an economic necessity when heads need to come together to collaborate, negotiate and innovate.
If daytime sleepiness, fuzzy thinking and chronic fatigue is holding you back, instead of ordering that next cappuccino, try facilitating a sleep credit instead.