The jury is in: Driving drowsy is as dangerous as (if not more so than), driving drunk. And yet, millions of us do it every day. We bolster ourselves with caffeine and keep going–there’s just so much to be done! Shift workers suffer the greatest impact, but in one 1994 study, 4.5 per cent of Canadians (that’s 1.5 million people, and mostly women), used prescription sleeping pills and another million used tranquilizers, daily. If we soldier on with our bad habits, we’ll never get a better night’s sleep. Experts suggest that the main culprits to a good night’s rest are:
1. Caffeine: It can take up to 20 hours to clear your liver of caffeine. You may not think it is affecting you so try cutting off earlier and earlier in the day until your last sip of the stuff is 2pm.
2. Indigestion: Eating too late at night interferes with your sleep. It isn’t so much that you have heartburn or that “full-feeling” keeps you awake, which are both true, but it is more that when you sleep, hormones are released. They have the “reboot” role and eating, especially a heavy meal, interferes. Stop eating two to three hours before bed.
3. Stress: Stress is a huge factor in not getting a good sleep and you need to be aware of your state of mind right before you hit the hay. Sitting in front of a flickering computer or TV screen, balancing your chequebook or fighting are not restful activities. There is a process that your body needs to go through before it lets itself relax. Think of it as sleep foreplay. A warm bath, journal writing, 20 deep breaths and a quick peek at pictures, rather than a spreadsheet, does wonders.
4. Vigorous exercise at night: Exercise is great for you! It heats up your metabolism long after you stop exercising, to maximize your burn. But this complicates matters for the reboot. That’s when you might notice that you aren’t sleeping well and turn to caffeine to stay awake through the day (which takes you back to the top of this list). It’s a vicious cycle. So if the only time you can exercise is at night, try to finish at least three hours before you expect to sleep.
5. Lack of magnesium: It takes calcium to flex a muscle and magnesium to let it go flaccid–a simple physiological fact. We spend a lot of time flexing our muscles in the actions of being, laughing and blinking but not a lot of time giving them what they need to relax. Our modern diets are lacking in magnesium as they are often being grown in magnesium-poor soil. Plants can thrive without magnesium, but we can’t! Some high-magnesium foods are oats, dates, nuts, figs, milk, seafood, molasses, seeds, wheat germ and other whole grains.
An example of optimum daily magnesium intake might include:
• one cup of yogurt, one cup of oatmeal, five almonds, five ounces of fish and one cup of warm milk (before bed). Even with the perfect number of servings of food sources it helps to have a little magic boost. Supplementing with 100 milligrams of magnesium before bed can do wonders.
Theresa Albert is a personal nutritionist, author and food writer based in Toronto www.myfriendinfood.com