“AMAZING BREAKTHROUGH! Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious.
Are you interested?”
The answer isn’t a pill, it’s not an injection, and it’s not a fancy treatment… the answer is sleep.
As DJs, disrupted sleep is par for the course and we suffer the consequences that come with it. There are many health issues associated with poor sleep, and lack of sleep plays a prominent role in many chronic diseases. By understanding what causes us to sleep poorly and how we can improve our quality of sleep, we can all enjoy a healthier and safer life.
But before we go any further, it’s important to explain what our body clock is and how it affects our sleep.
Body clocks and sleep disruption
Human genes contain instructions for a biological clock of roughly 24 hours. This clock is called our ‘circadian clock’ and it regulates everything our body does, including our sleep patterns, alertness, mood, physical strength and blood pressure.
In anticipation of going to bed, our body temperature drops, blood pressure decreases, cognitive performance declines, and tiredness increases. Then, before dawn, our metabolism is geared up in anticipation of increased activity when we wake. Many people aren’t aware of this internal world and we’re seduced by an apparent freedom to sleep, work, eat, drink or travel when we want. It’s also important to remember that body clocks differ between people. Most of us have heard the terms ‘lark’ and ‘owl’ in reference to our sleep preferences. ‘Larks’ are alert in the mornings and go to bed early. On the other hand, if you hate mornings and enjoy being awake through the night (most DJs) then you’re an ‘owl’.
These differences are partly encoded in our genes, but they also change as we age. In our first decade, we tend to wake early, but during puberty our bedtimes and wake times drift to later hours, peaking around age 20. Then the trend reverses and drifts towards earlier sleep and wake times. By the age of 55-60 we’re getting up as early as we did when we were 10.
In recent years, we’ve seen many new scientific discoveries around sleep and the importance of our body clocks. Our 24-hour society presents numerous problems. The introduction of electricity and artificial light in the 19th century and the restructuring of work times have detached us from the solar cycle of light and dark, resulting in disruptions to our sleep patterns (called Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disruption (SCRD)).
Such disruption results in performance deficits, including increased errors, poor vigilance, poor memory, reduced mental and physical reaction times, and reduced motivation. Long-term SCRD may also contribute to chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Obesity is strongly correlated with sleep apnoea and the resulting sleep disturbance. Under these circumstances, the result can be a dangerous cycle of obesity and sleep disturbance.
What causes bad sleep and how to get back to sleep
There are various contributing factors to a bad night’s sleep, such as:
1. Not getting exposure to daylight in the morning
2. Eating ultra-processed food very late at night
3. Having no wind-down routine
4. Sleeping in a bedroom temperature above 19.4°c or below 15.6°c
5. A lack of exercise
6. Drinking alcohol within a couple of hours of sleep
7. Drinking caffeine within eight hours of sleep
8. Watching film or TV that places you in an alert state, such as horror and thrillers
9. Scrolling on electronic devices in bed
10. Exposure to bright ceiling lights after 10pm and before 4am
11. Stress and anxiety
12. Arguments with partner/family members late at night
There’s also the pressure of believing that getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is essential to proper sleep. Though well intentioned, that belief can do more harm than good. If you’ve been sleeping five hours a night and can increase that to six hours, that’s fantastic progress and should be celebrated rather than shamed.
It’s also perfectly normal to wake up in the middle of the night, usually to use the toilet. Often the fundamental problem is falling back to sleep. The least helpful behaviour in this scenario is to scroll your phone, or to lie awake for 20+ minutes, stressing that you can’t get back to sleep.
If you can’t get back to sleep, some popular behaviours include:
Reading a calm book in another room until tired
Calm breathing exercises and/or NSDR or yoga nidra (if you’re unfamiliar, search for these on YouTube – in the day time, of course!)
Physiological sighs whilst in bed (again, search this on YouTube if you’re unsure)
If you tend to wake up with leg cramps in the night it may help to do some gentle stretching before bed. Try this stretch for relieving tight calves:
Lean forward, pressing your hands against the wall until you feel your calf muscles stretch. Hold for 2 or 3 seconds. Stand up straight again. Repeat a few times for 5 minutes, 3 times a day (the last time just before bed).
Why eating late is bad for you
One major problem for DJs is eating on the way home from a gig. Eating late at night causes the body many issues. Plus the food available after midnight is usually very low quality and ultra-processed, which is harder for our bodies to digest. Depending on the time of day, the same meal can produce very different levels of blood glucose. This is due to the changes in glucose uptake and metabolism driven by our body clock.
Our metabolism works differently during the daytime, when we’re busy taking in calories and turning them into energy. At night, we convert any spare calories into fat for storage, because at night we need to use stored energy to run our metabolism and survive. So evening eaters, who eat much of their food between 6pm and bedtime, are at an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, type-2 diabetes, weight gain and obesity.
For many people, time-restricted eating, sometimes called ‘intermittent fasting’, can be beneficial. This method works because, just like our body clocks, the microbes in our gut have a ‘circadian rhythm’ and need a rest period.
The front loading of our daily intake of food (recommended by many experts) would require a big change for many people. But just a few generations ago, it was considered ‘normal’. Lunch was commonly called dinner (and still is in many households) and it was when people at most of their daily food intake. But with the invasion of the night, long commutes, changes in social structure and the ease of popping something into the microwave after work, our dining habits have altered dramatically. Over the past 50-70 years, our biggest meal of the day has moved from the middle of the day to the end.
This shift in habits, twinned with our growing tiredness from extended work hours and reduced sleep, is driving the nation’s weight gain. Our tiredness makes us hungrier and more likely to crave the weight-gaining foods that contain more carbs and sugars. It’s a double whammy.
1. Increases risk of obesity
The major risk of eating late at night is consuming more calories. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that late-night eating predicted weight gain. The findings showed that participants who ate between 11pm and 5am ate more overall; they were more likely to eat around 500 calories more per day.
Those midnight snacks can lead to quicker weight gain. And if those snacks are fatty or sugary foods, it could be challenging to control that weight at a later stage. If you’re dieting, you may feel hungry late at night, and one chocolate or a cheesy snack may not seem like a problem, but often that habit becomes a slippery slope for packing on more stubborn fat.
2. Can lead to eating disorders
People who eat their food late are also likely to make poor food choices. At night you feel tired and research shows the more tired you are, the more you’re likely to crave unhealthy or high-calorie food. These cravings and poor choices can lead to eating disorders, which, like emotional eating, cause you to eat a lot more throughout the day.
3. Increases risk of GERD
One of the health effects of eating late at night is the risk of GERD. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is an uncomfortable experience. It’s when food contents in the stomach get back up into the oesophagus, usually when lying down after eating late-night snacks. This causes burps and sharp stomach pains and is a sign of an unhealthy system. It is advisable to leave at least two hours between your last meal and sleep.
GERD is more common than you’d think. Research estimates that in Europe the prevalence is around 9-26%.
4. Can affect metabolism and digestion
In general, the body’s metabolism is low at night because we aren’t moving. Eating late makes an already low metabolic state worse, as you’re unable to digest the food quickly enough. Because your body can’t distribute the right nutrients, this poor digestion can make you vulnerable to illnesses like common colds, flus and diseases. Eating healthily and at proper hours will save you from many unwanted illnesses.
How to avoid eating at night
Here are four ways to avoid the temptation to eat late at night:
1. Eat enough during the day
Your daytime eating schedule can affect your hunger levels at night. Eat fat- and protein-rich meals and snacks to keep hunger at bay throughout the day and prevent late-night overeating.
2. Put away your snacks
Clean up the kitchen after dinner, stash away any easy-to-reach snacks, and stay out of the kitchen until breakfast the next morning to avoid mindlessly munching. If you must snack, set aside a single serving of something nutritious so you don't overeat late at night.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and need to get out of bed, choose another room to sit in besides the kitchen so you're not tempted to snack.
3. Address sleep problems
Not getting enough quality sleep can lead to overeating unhealthy foods at any time of day. As a result, dealing with insomnia or poor sleep habits, like an inconsistent sleep schedule, may help you get better snoozes and prevent unhealthy snacking.
We’ve already covered some tips for better sleep, but it helps if you fall asleep and wake up around the same times every day, and sleep in a dark, cool room. If you continue experiencing sleep difficulties, visit your doctor to see if something besides poor sleep hygiene is to blame.
4. Practise mindful eating
Before eating at bedtime or in the middle of the night, stop to ask yourself if you're actually hungry or if you just want to snack out of boredom or stress. You may be thirsty rather than hungry. If you're actually hungry, eat a light snack to tide you over until morning.
The problem with dieting
Many mobile DJs fit into the older demographic and, as we age, our metabolism slows down, making it much easier to gain weight. This happens partly because the robustness of our circadian rhythms decreases and partly because the alignment of the circadian rhythms involved in metabolism is less well synchronised, so collectively our metabolism is less tightly controlled. These changes – called ‘dysregulation’ – pave the way for weight gain and obesity (night shift workers face similar problems).
Additionally, as we get older we get into more rigid routines with our food. We eat because it’s mealtime rather than because we’re hungry.
For 98% of people, weight gain follows weight loss. The problem relates to a fundamental part of our physiology called homeostasis. Homeostasis is the process where the body maintains a more or less stable environment, such as temperature, hormone levels, blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose and caloric intake. Our body constantly monitors these vital processes so they’re maintained at a particular level.
A significant change from the ‘norm’ will usually be corrected, either increased or decreased when the homeostatic mechanisms are triggered as a negative feedback loop (where the response to a change reverses the direction of the change). For example, an increase in body temperature past a certain point would trigger a change in physiology that lowers the temperature. Conversely, a significant drop in temperature would feed back to increase temperature.
This is the problem when we diet. When we try to lose weight, we lose stored fat, but our brain detects a depletion of stored calories and corrects for this loss. Leptin is stored in adipose tissues/fat cells. As we reduce the amount of stored fat by dieting, we produce less leptin. Less leptin means the body releases more ghrelin into the stomach, to counteract the loss of leptin, which increases hunger and make us eat more.
When the body detects less fat, it also stimulates the thyroid gland to produce less thyroxine to lower the metabolic rate and burn fewer calories when we sleep. Thyroxine is under circadian control and normally has higher release at night to regulate the metabolism to keep us alive when we’re asleep. Lowering thyroxine allows the body to save calories, which leads to an increase in stored fat.
Ultimately, you must cut back calories even further just to maintain the weight loss you’ve achieved. You feel hungry, especially for sugars. And you have a much slower metabolism, especially at night. The brain thinks its owner is being starved. Your body has defended your ‘normal’ level of body fat and, as a result, it hasn’t changed.
So, what can be done besides dieting to achieve a healthy metabolism?
Circadian rhythms are embedded in every aspect of our biology and we ignore this rhythmic biology at our peril. Taking these four corrective measures will improve our cognition, overall wellbeing, metabolism, fitness, educational performance, and life expectancy.
These actions are not particularly demanding, especially when you consider the benefits.
Don’t deprive yourself of sleep. You may feel you’re getting stuff done, but you're actually reducing your effectiveness, and in the long-term it’s counterproductive.
Why all this matters for DJs
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 114, Pages 58-64.