Sleep I’ll keep but sugar it’s time to split

Today is Day 10 of the 100 Day Project and into my inbox just popped a little check-in from the team, noting that this is the point when often people feel like they’ve run out of steam, but reminding us that this is part of the process and we just need to keep showing up.

At the end of the working week, I am feeling very literally out of steam. It’s been just over five weeks since I decided to stop drinking alcohol and whilst I absolutely, 100 percent stand by and actually increasingly enjoy this decision, there have been two big resultant, well, results that I wasn’t expecting.

Like everyone who picks up women’s magazines, men’s magazines, or even a weekend supplement, I have read countless articles on the miracle benefits of cutting out alcohol. After the initial few-day slump, it seems like all the writers suddenly start jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, rested and revived, and the weight then starts just sliding off as a new found enthusiasm for exercise simultaneously kicks in, and the countless empty calories are out.

Whilst I have had compliments on my glowing skin (!), five weeks in I am still surprised by two things.

Firstly, just how much my body is still craving all of the sleep. I realise a number of my recent blogs have touched on sleep and I am possibly coming across as more than a little bit sleep obsessed. That is because, literally, physically, I am. I definitely find it easier getting up in the morning, not just compared to the mornings after the night out before (that would be what we lovingly refer to at my work as a ‘No Shit Sherlock’ statement!). But I just cannot seem to get enough sleep. The quality of my sleep has exponentially improved, its deep and dream-filled, and un-disturbed. But even after a good recommended eight and a half hours, I’m still getting a really bad afternoon energy slump.

The affect of alcohol on sleep is something Matthew Walker also touches on in his fascinating book ‘Why We Sleep’. This bit is depressing reading for anyone who likes a drink but also likes their sleep. We’ve all been there; that sense that you hit the pillow hard but wake early, are more restless through the night and never feel refreshed the morning after. Hello hangover. But it’s more than that Walker explains:

Alcohol sedates you out of wakefulness, but it does not induce natural sleep… rather it is akin to a light form of anaesthesia. Yet this is not the worse of it when considering the effects of the evening nightcap on your slumber… alcohol is one of the most powerful suppressors of REM sleep that we know of. When the body metabolises alcohol it produces by-product chemicals called aldehydes and ketones. The aldehydes in particular will block the brain’s ability to generate REM sleep… preventing the pulsating beat of brainwaves that otherwise power dream sleep.

So when you stop drinking, if you’re a regular and repeated drinker as so many of us are nowadays, your body can go into what he terms ‘REM sleep rebound’, literally like a dehydrated person put in front of a tap of water. You are unspeakably thirsty and you want it all. So combine that with this bloody awful freezing cold weather that continues to hang around, and I think I am still in REM sleep rebound overdrive.

Secondly, the alcohol-induced weight is yet to miraculously melt away. In fact, in some very unfair twist of events, I have actually managed to put on some weight. Broadly my exercise regime is similar but my sugar intake has definitely upped. Oh, and the carbs. And the quantities. Again I also blame the cold!

Deep down in the completely selfless part of my soul I remain very happy for all those people who dropped pounds when they dropped booze, but in all honesty I am more than a little jealous! I once heard in Narcotics Anonymous they have a saying that you put down the spoon and pick up the fork. It seems like I have swapped the glass for the chocolate! So without taking on too much all at once, I am going to try to wean myself back off the sugar, especially as I am heading off to what transpires is a proper detox in Portugal at the end of the month. I apologise in advance to my team and colleagues come Monday morning as perhaps in the early withdrawal I might be sugar free not so sweet!

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