Chemicals and sleep:
Alcohol is a sedative which knocks you out but causes fragmented sleep. You wake up more often and it also reduces rapid eye movement sleep. It causes you to wake up unrefreshed. Alcohol also raises the body temperature making it more difficult to sleep. In addition, it raises the heart rate. Usually when you sleep your body temperature drops by 2 or 3°.
A high carbohydrate meal has similar effects to alcohol.
Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors. We need an elevation in adenosine to help us sleep. Adenosine helps activate our own melatonin. The half-life of caffeine is six hours and the quarter life is 12 hours so a cup of coffee at noon will still be one quarter with you at midnight.
THC, which is the active ingredient in cannabis, helps us fall asleep faster but it also blocks REM sleep. There is also tolerance, so you need to use more and more to help you sleep and there is rebound insomnia if you quit.
Cannabidiol or CBD is more promising. It has no psychoactive properties. You fall asleep faster and it has no negative impact on REM. It may also reduce sleep apnea and help people who have PTSD related sleep issues. The optimal dose is the issue however because too much may make everything worse. A single small study showed it improved deep sleep, lowered body temperature and reduced anxiety.
The bottom line is you should control the room temperature by making a little cooler, control the light by making it very dark, control nutrients and diet, eliminate alcohol and caffeine and meditate. There are current studies with MDMA (ecstasy) guided trips and this seems to show some promise. There are also studies using brain electrical stimulation while sleeping to improve memory. This utilizes a machine that sings in time with your brain waves.
I highly recommend the book “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker. As with all of our information it’s important to discuss these issues with your primary care physician.
- Dr. Mike