When you’re struggling with insomnia the hardest part is often staying alert during the day. Whilst there are many medicines designed to help people sleep – which don’t always work – there are relatively few to help you stay awake and you may find that they don’t suit you very well. Familiarising yourself with natural solutions will leave you better equipped to get through your day.
When we think of natural compounds used for staying awake the first thing that usually comes to mind is caffeine. This can be very effective, though it doesn’t suit everybody, but just how it affects your body depends to a large extent on how you consume it. Coffee contains other active ingredients that can put an extra strain on a body already suffering from fatigue, so although it’s quick to act it isn’t always the best choice for insomniacs.
Caffeinated drinks like cola and iron bru can be very effective because they also contain large amounts of sugar. If you prefer the diet versions you should make sure you’re eating enough fruit or carbohydrates to give your body the extra energy it needs to respond effectively. Overall, the healthiest caffeinated drink is tea, but pregnant women should limit themselves to five cups a day at most as it contains compounds that absorb folic acid.
As caffeine is a diuretic it’s important to make sure you don’t get dehydrated when you’re consuming it in large quantities. You should also be wary of getting addicted. If that does happen, it’s much better for you to cut down slowly than to try and quit in one go.
Popular alternative stimulants in South America include yerba mate, tereré and guarana, all of which are used to brew drinks and are considered safe for healthy adults by UK regulators. They are all based around caffeine but their effects are noticeably different from those of the caffeinated drinks you are likely to be more used to. You will probably find them far more intense in small quantities.
Alongside caffeine, mate contains two other stimulants, theobromine and theophylline. Theobromine is one of the compounds that makes dark chocolate stimulating. The combination of these ingredients means that mate won’t give you the muscle twitches you may get from caffeine on its own, and some studies suggest it can also help lower cholesterol.
If you look at the ingredients list on many energy drinks you are likely to see taurine listed there. This can be a bit misleading as taurine has yet to be proven to boost energy levels, and it’s unlikely to have any effect on the body at all in the small quantities present in such drinks. It can, however, be obtained as a dietary supplement (and despite the name, there are vegetarian version available) in which case it may have another important effect.
The real usefulness of taurine comes in its effect on the central nervous system. Studies suggest that it can have a calming effect that is particularly useful in moderating the effects of caffeine. It also appears to aid concentration, making it easier to think clearly when you’re tired. A further useful quality is the way it reduces blood sugar levels, helping to keep energy use steady and avoiding the sudden rushes and periods of exhaustion connected with using sugary drinks to stay awake.
It isn’t always necessary to use powerful stimulants to stay alert, even when you’re worn out from insomnia. In fact, one of the best things you can do is simply to increase your intake of citrus fruits and fruit juices. There are two reasons why this works. The first is that fruit sugars are really easy for the body to break down and provide immediate energy. The second is that these fruits help to replace important nutrients lost to the body due to fatigue.
There are basically two approaches to treating fatigue. The stimulants described above help the body to push harder and use more of the energy stores it already has – which is why they can leave you feeling rough afterwards. The alternative approach is to replace energy and nutrients at a steady level by eating a healthy diet. Antioxidants (also found in abundance in fruit) and plenty of water help this process by getting rid of toxins normally disposed of during sleep.
As every individual reacts slightly differently to these various substances, you will need to experiment to find the right one – or the right mix – for you. Although it won’t solve all the problems caused by sleeplessness, this can make you better able to get on with your life.