We all know caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee that is keeping us awake. Do you need ‘your cup of coffee’ to wake you up in the morning or to keep you alert through the day?
Busy women of Singapore, we know that many of us depend on coffee to keep us going throughout the day. Coffee has been one of the most well-liked beverages for decades. It has become so common that drinking coffee has become part of our culture, and often our daily ritual. Without the cup of coffee do you feel sluggish in the afternoon? Coffee has a good number of health benefits. However, if you would like to stay alert without too much caffeine, please read on.
First and foremost is sleep. Yes, good quality sleep. Our body needs enough sleep and rest to be able to recharge and rejuvenate. Occupied with jobs, working till late at night, having a newborn and kids… all of this takes a toll on us. Practice good sleep hygiene – this means keeping all electronics away from the bed, keep the room dark and try relaxation techniques before going to sleep. If getting enough sleep is difficult, here are some tricks that may help to stay alert:
Take an afternoon nap
Napping between five to 25 minutes, five to six hours before bed time is a good way to recharge. You might feel more energetic after the nap. Naps longer than that might give you post-sleep grogginess, also known as sleep inertia. Napping too close to bedtime might also upset your regular sleep time. If you can’t nap, even closing your eyes for about 10 minutes or so may help. One study conducted by researchers at Harvard University showed that napping is better than caffeine to get over the midday slump.
Get up and move around
Walking pumps oxygen to your brain, veins, and muscles. A study by California State University found that a short brisk walk is more effective in increasing the energy than eating a candy bar. If your job is desk-bound, try to get up for short walks often – head out during your lunch break!
Eat a nutritious snack
Candy bars or snacks that are high in sugar will give you a sudden energy boost, but this is followed by a sudden drop in energy due to the crash in blood sugar. Try healthy snacks that are high in fat and packed with nutrients: a handful of nuts, fruits, carrot or celery sticks, lentils, beans, chickpeas, hummus, avocado on toast or even eggs. Limiting the amount of carbohydrate intake during lunch time will help to curb the afternoon/post-lunch dip.
Researchers at the University of Georgia conducted a study involving 6800 participants that showed that exercise increases energy, improves sleep quality, and reduces daytime fatigue. Try exercising 30 minutes a day. Exercise improves the oxygen uptake by the muscles and brain. Getting up and getting moving increases endorphins – these neurotransmitters help to relieve stress and increase feelings of euphoria.
Get some sun and turn up the lights
Sunlight has a direct impact on our hypothalamus, which regulates our circadian rhythm. Exposure to sunlight during the day helps you to sleep better at night. A study conducted in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston showed that blue light in particular increases alertness during the day. Sunlight is the ideal source, though artificial light may still be effective. So, try getting out and getting some sun. It wouldn’t hurt to get some vitamin D along the way. If getting sunlight is tough, turn up the lights to increase alertness.
Deep breathing/ mindful breathing and other breathing techniques
Deep breathing improves your level of blood oxygen. It lowers the heart rate, improves circulation, calms the mind and ultimately improves mental performance and energy. Deep breathing involves movement of the abdomen and diaphragm, not the chest. Your mind must be consciously aware of your breathing movement coupled with the movement of the abdomen. It could be easily done while you are at your desk. Another breathing technique called stimulating breath involves quick inhalation and exhalation through the nose, with mouth shut but relaxed. It is used in yoga to give a quick energy boost.
Drink enough water
Dehydration leads to fatigue. Drink enough to prevent dehydration as our body is composed of 60% water. Studies have shown even a 1-2% loss of water would cause fatigue and confusion.
Try other beverages, such as green tea or herbs
Green tea also contains caffeine, but at a lesser amount. In addition, it has L-theanine, which has anti-anxiety effects by increasing the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and dopamine. It also acts synergistically with caffeine in improving brain performance. Liquorice root tea and some other herbs such as Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha and rhodiola may also help to boost energy by supporting the adrenals.
Ultimately, the ideal approach would be looking at the underlying reason for your fatigue. Are you sleeping well? Is your sleep quality good? Are you coping well with your stress? Are you eating well? Trying to find the root cause and addressing it would be the best way to curb the constant craving of caffeine.
Ask the doctor: Do I have insomnia and what remedies can I try?
There isn’t a patient in this world who’s wondered if they’ll ever get a full night’s sleep again. We did warn you though that life as you know it is over once you have kids. Colic, all-night milk buffets and sick toddlers have ensured your rapid transition from queen bee to mombie. But, if your kids are sleeping through the night (don’t gloat about it) and you’re still wide awake worrying why, perhaps it’s time for a sleep intervention. We spoke to Dr Colin Koh at Complete Healthcare International (CHI) to help you understand why you may be sleepless in Singapore
I have trouble falling asleep. Could I have insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that is associated with difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. It can cause fatigue, low energy, brain fog, and also affect your mood. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night to function effectively. Short-term insomnia can occur after a traumatic event, or due to a temporary stressor like problems at home or work. This only lasts for a few days or weeks. However, if you’ve had trouble falling asleep for over a month, it’s time to check with your doctor.
What could the reasons be?
Trying to be the jack-of-all-trades and a master’s to-do lists can leave you feeling stressed and sleepless. Eating or working in bed, basking in the glow of smartphones and tablets before bedtime (classic Mombie symptoms) can also be the culprits. Heavy dinners, too many caffeinated drinks, less alcohol, and nicotine in tobacco products can all disrupt a good night’s rest. If you are a frequent flyer, or work odd hours, inconsistent sleep patterns and jet lag can disrupt your internal body clock or circadian rhythm, leading to insomnia.
A more serious cause of insomnia may be underlying issues such as an anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and the early stages of depression. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome can also cause disturbed sleep. Certain antidepressants and medications can also affect sleep patterns.
What options can I try?
“The best way to get managed sleep without medication is to make the bedroom a sanctuary of rest and comfort” suggests Dr Koh. “Prepare to sleep by taking a warm bath, reading, deep breathing exercises, prayer or yoga. Finally, avoid trying too hard. Read in another room until you are sleepy. Don’t stay in bed if you are not sleeping.”
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which has proven to be very effective, aims at creating a more restful environment for you to sleep. Avoid eating or working in bed and banish all shiny screens from your room. Try using earplugs or blackout curtains and let go of daytime naps (even if your child is asleep). Find ways to manage anxiety or depressive thoughts through counselling and try relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation. Professional treatments like guided imagery, biofeedback or sleep restriction techniques can also help. Alternative treatments including acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can also help deal with insomnia but make sure you consult certified therapists.
Medication, Herbs and Supplements
While undergoing treatment like CBT, sleeping pills or other medication may be prescribed to you. While these medicines can help you sleep, they do not cure insomnia and can make you groggy during the day. It’s important that all medication should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision. Studies suggest that melatonin with magnesium and zinc may help improve quality of sleep, but long-term use is not recommended for insomnia. While certain herbal teas or a glass of warm milk will help you relax, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine does not recommend herbs like valerian root, dietary supplements such as St. John’s wort or L-tryptophan.
While insomnia is common, (yes, there are many others like you) the reasons can be varied. Have some quiet introspection and an honest discussion with your doctor so that they can customize a treatment plan to help you sleep better.