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Why stimulants aren’t good for your sleep (or anxiety)

If you’re a part of the majority who loves coffee, you’ll know there’s nothing more satisfying than that first sip in the morning

Whether you’re a latte drinker or you take yours black, there’s no question that coffee is energising and unbelievably delicious. However, stimulants found in coffee may be interfering with your ability to gain restful and peaceful sleep. And, as we know, insomnia and anxiety is a vicious cycle, sleep deprivation can cause anxiety disorders, and those with chronic insomnia have an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

You see, coffee is a stimulant – a class of substances that raise levels of physiological or nervous activity in the body. Other common stimulants include chocolate, sugar, caffeinated soft drink and nicotine. And yes, we did say chocolate! Sugar (in combination with milk fat) in chocolate produces an explosion of endorphins and serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain. Sometimes referred to as a “sugar high”, the combination can be a mood elevator. These stimulants work to block the part of your brain that detects the hormone responsible for sleepiness (adenosine, if you want to be science-y). While reducing tiredness in the morning is great, it’s no surprise that a surplus of stimulants is a red flag for a good night’s rest.

Now, if you’re like us, you may be wondering how you’ll ever survive without your late afternoon coffee or post-dinner chocolate. We’ve put together three easy tips on how to achieve sufficient sleep without entirely sacrificing these goodies:

  1. Kick your afternoon habit
    It’s a no brainer that consuming coffee right before you hit the hay won’t do you any sleep favours, but even 4PM may be too little too late. If possible, swap your coffee (or caffeinated soft drink) for a herbal tea by 2PM, this way there’s time for the effects to wear off.
  2. Sleep superfoods
    If you can’t go without something sweet after dinner, substitute your chocolate treat for something like a small bowl of yoghurt with banana slices. This contains a snooze-friendly combination of protein and tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to sleep-promoting serotonin in the body. (Or try these Chewy Lavender Biscuits.)
  3. Sip wine sooner
    While alcohol isn’t technically a stimulant, too much booze – especially the sugar-heavy stuff – can really mess with the quality of sleep you get. As the alcohol is processed by your body, it is converted into sugars, causing a sugar high in the middle of the night. If you’re having a drink, stick to low-sugar alcohol like red wine, spirits or beer, and drink in moderation earlier in the evening rather than just before you snooze.
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