Choices you make every day affect your energy levels, sleep quality and eventually even your health. Learn what’s getting in the way of your groove today.
☝️Disclaimer This article is for those who feel tired because of their lifestyle and/or eating habits. If a healthy diet, good sleep and exercise do not help you cope with fatigue, it is time to talk to a doctor.
Lethargy, concentration problems and poor memory are all expressions of low energy levels. But often, there's far more to it than meets the eye: it can be a sign of poor dietary choices, inhospitable working hours, drinking coffee after lunch or lurking on social media when you should be asleep.
In this article, we investigate how small habits can have big consequences for your energy levels, brain health and sleep. You’ll be reminded how differently we lived for most of human history and discover some strange relationships between your health and how you live.
The devil is in the detail as they say. So we’ve compiled a list of seemingly harmless habits that will kill your buzz faster than you can spell M-O-J-O. We should probably add that, while you may regret learning this today, your new-found knowledge has the potential to transform your outlook on modern life. It’s the little things, people!
- Modern life is killing your ability to generate new neurons
- Shift work and sugar can be detrimental to your health
- Alcohol and caffeine are really not your friends after lunch
- Your devices are messing with your circadian rhythm
Human brain machinery is super sensitive
Internet, factories, urbanisation and profound lifestyle changes are just a few things that happened to our health.
A century ago, most food was grown in gardens and fields to be sold on the market or eaten at home. Our great grandmothers frequented fruit and veg stalls, bakers, fishmongers and butchers. Nutrient-rich offal was a staple on the dining table. They gardened too - and cycled to the shops.
The only food made in factories was for soldiers and processed foods didn’t exist. Instead, families were endowed with formidable matriarchs that spent many hours gardening, preparing, cooking and cleaning just to feed their families.
That’s not to say that humanity needs to bring back “the good ol’ days”. They had their own problems like domestic violence, scurvy, illiteracy and war. Yet, there is wisdom to be gleaned from certain lifestyle patterns.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were homemade from ingredients that we can all recognise, even today. The food was less processed, excess sugar and salt were not a problem for the majority. Being thin was associated with poverty and overweight was a sign of affluence.
In fact, a growing body of research on rodents and humans indicates that high-fat and high-sugar diets (and a combination of both) prevent the brain from generating new nerve cells that are essential for memory and learning. They’ve also shown that stress can interrupt this process too, leading to depression.
NEUROGENESIS describes the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the brain’s epicentre of memory (especially long-term memory), spatial awareness and emotions.
Physical exercise was not a luxury or punishment, it simply was - there was no other option. Not to mention that fewer people lived in cities, more time was spent outside and most people were tired by the end of the day.
Interestingly, physical exercise has also been shown to induce, regulate and protect the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus. It may also help protect from neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
Nowadays, society has traded water for coffee, home-cooked meals for fast food, and regular sleeping patterns for 24-hour cities and 24-hour jobs. It’s not surprising that sitting is the "new smoking" - anyone tethered to their desk will agree.
Others know the joys of shift work and its nightly pangs for sugary snacks, troubled daytime sleeping patterns, social isolation and a general fogginess.
Sugar and shift work
Fizzy drinks and chocolate bars might kick you out of your torpor, but beware of the sugar rollercoaster. Before long, it’s followed by a steep spiral into exhaustion: your brain goes on strike and your body starts to crave more.
This is, in part, because your body just experienced a sharp rise in blood glucose levels from the sugar in your pick-me-up. In response, it released a hormone called insulin that regulates glucose by managing its storage in muscle, fat and the liver.
Researchers have extensively demonstrated that people who work nights tend to choose energy-dense, sugary snacks more often. They are also more at risk of chronic metabolic conditions like obesity and cardiovascular disease. It has been shown that the body is less effective at processing fats and sugars at night. This is thought to contribute to increased disease risks in people working night jobs.
Over the long term, high-sugar diets can have serious consequences. They can lead to insulin resistance, a state in which the body's tissues are less sensitive to insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood glucose levels. This is associated with metabolic conditions like diabetes type II and obesity.
☝️ Remember The Health Survey in your Atlas Biomed personal account includes extensive questions on such topics. We use this information in your disease risk assessment for multifactorial diseases including metabolic conditions.
Alcohol and caffeine are not your friends
Unfortunately, alcohol is a terrible bedmate and caffeine... Well, it rose to fame because it keeps humans awake, not because it tastes great in a takeaway cup.
A lot of research now pinpoints alcohol as a factor in poor sleep. It is a sedative, and that’s why it works so well at sending you to sleep, but it also messes with your brain. Research shows that drinking alcohol before bed blocks REM sleep, which is considered the most restorative stage of slumber.
Scientists suggest that alcohol-induced changes in brainwave patterns may be the reason for this by triggering competing daytime alpha waves and sleep-related delta waves at the same time.
A nightcap also triggers a dump of adenosine (a brain chemical with sleep-inducing properties) that subsides quickly too. It is estimated that possibly 50% of people with chronic drinking habits suffer from insomnia.
Another great sleep disruptor is caffeine. Historically, this special bean has been used as a stimulant that became popular in Europe as a hot beverage.
half the caffeine content of one beverage
Its properties were integrated into sports nutrition supplements, diet “aids”, shampoos for hair growth and energy drinks. And then came the organic beans, craft roastery, flavoured simple syrups and low-fat milk froth. Coffee is now an art. A snack. A personal statement.
However, caffeine has a half-life of 5–6 hours. Basically, if you drink a coffee at 12.00pm, your body will have neutralised about 50% of its caffeine content by about 6.00pm. This is actually influenced by your DNA: every person is uniquely predisposed to slow, average or rapid neutralisation of caffeine.
Funnily enough, caffeine blocks adenosine, that sleep-inducing brain chemical that alcohol also messes with. Well it’s not funny, but it is true. The sad but honest moral of this story is that you will never think of an espresso martini in the same way again.
Especially since even moderate consumption of alcohol has been shown to significantly decrease neurogenesis in rats. And if that isn’t bad enough, moderate intake of caffeine has also been shown to suppress the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus.
☝️ Remember Alcohol and caffeine metabolism are both genetic traits that you can check with the Atlas DNA Test.
Circadian rhythm and screen time
Alliterations are best put to use when bringing together seemingly unrelated items, like these ones. Your circadian rhythm refers to a specific pattern of physiological processes that your body undergoes over 24 hours. And seemingly unrelated, is spending time on a backlit LED monitor like a flat-screen TV, a tablet or a phone before bed. Or is it?
Your body and its systems work on a “master clock”, the circadian rhythm. Animated by a group of approx. 20,000 nerve cells, it likes routine, steady dining hours and a good rest to recover. According to the National Institute of Medical Sciences, it is located "in the hypothalamus and receives direct input from the eyes.”
During the day, your circadian rhythm is concerned with action: moving, thinking, ingesting and excreting to provide your body and your brain with energy enough to stay warm, fed and sexually satiated. At night, your body does maintenance work on your organs because they undergo a lot wear-and-tear during the day.
It was only recently discovered that your brain uses sleep to evacuate byproducts of metabolism and other stuff that built up during the day. This job is performed by the glymphatic system.
Scientists now speak of the vital link between the sleep-wake cycle and neurodegeneration. For example, the glymphatic system also removes a peptide called amyloid-beta, the build-up of which is associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Good quality sleep is a vital element of human health, especially for your brain. But it can be affected by the bright lights of electronic devices, because it feeds directly into the hypothalamus. This part of the brain is home to your circadian rhythm and takes cues directly from your eyes.
Sadly, many electronic devices today use “blue” light and the message is loud and clear: it’s not time to sleep. In turn, the cascade of events and chemicals that send you off to sleep while the cleaning crew does its job is significantly delayed.
Generally, exposure to light suppresses melatonin, a chemical that helps induce sleep. However, blue light has much stronger effect than other colours on the light spectrum.
One Harvard study comparing the effects of blue to green light showed that blue light can suppress melatonin production for twice as long as green light. It also shifts the circadian rhythm by up to 3 hours vs. 1.5 hours for green light.
And this is how screens can mess up your sleep, and your brain’s ability to create new neurons, and your body’s ability to metabolise glucose… It’s unfortunate but true: our whole body is an incredibly complex biological computer that is interconnected in ways that humanity has yet to even imagine.
Take control of your lifestyle today
From seemingly unrelated to seamlessly merged, the topic of how lifestyle affects your health and wellbeing is vast and frankly a bit depressing. Making changes to how you live demands effort and dedication. Often, it also conflicts with your loved ones, their desires and their schedule.
But knowledge is power, and understanding how your lifestyle affects your body is the first step to making changes that can literally change your life! In a forthcoming article, we will be investigating the simple changes you can make to get your mojo back.
In the meantime, if you’ve taken the Atlas Biomed DNA Test, just click on the links below to see how your genetics influence your well-being in this area.
|Nutrient levels||Disease risks|
|Obesity||Diabetes type II|
|Alcohol intolerance||Caffeine metabolism|
- Poulose SM. et al., Nutritional Factors Affecting Adult Neurogenesis and Cognitive Function
- Murata Y. et al. A high fat diet-induced decrease in hippocampal newly-born neurons of male mice is exacerbated by mild psychological stress using a Communication Box
- Lindqvist A. et al. High-fat diet impairs hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats
- NHS England Flagship Diabetes Prevention Update 2018
- Tomahosa Toda et al. The role of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in brain health and disease
- Fabel K. et al. Physical activity and the regulation of neurogenesis in the adult and aging brain
- Suk-Yu Yau et al. Physical Exercise-Induced Adult Neurogenesis: A Good Strategy to Prevent Cognitive Decline in Neurodegenerative Diseases?
- Mueller A.D. et al. Sleep deprivation can inhibit adult hippocampal neurogenesis independent of adrenal stress hormones
- Influences on Dietary Choices during Day versus Night Shift in Shift Workers: A Mixed Methods Study
- Anderson ML. et al. Moderate drinking? Alcohol consumption significantly decreases neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus
- Crews FT. et al. Alcohol, Neural Stem Cells, and Adult Neurogenesis
- Wentz CT. et al. Caffeine alters proliferation of neuronal precursors in the adult hippocampus
- Han ME. et al. Inhibitory effects of caffeine on hippocampal neurogenesis and function
- Adenosine Sheds Light on the Relationship between Alcohol and Sleep
- Blue light has a dark side
- Circadian rhythms fact sheet
- Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain
- Reduced non–rapid eye movement sleep is associated with tau pathology in early Alzheimer’s disease