Goodbye Movember, hello sleep awareness

This week, in honour of Movember I watched a BBC documentary presented by the original moustache himself, professor Rob Winston. Yes, you know the one, chunky and wholesome tash, looks effortless but the results are astounding. How can you not take anything this man says as the absolute truth? He’s just so personable!

For those of you who don’t know…Movember is where men all over the world grow facial hair in order to promote awareness of men’s health including prostate cancer.

Anyway, the BBC documentary can be seen here :

and although it’s a lengthy 90 minutes, it is certainly a light hearted way of learning more about some of the things I have been examining in previous posts. There are a couple of interactive quizzes where you are invited to answer questions and then score yourself. Those would have been way more fun at the time the documentary was originally aired as the handy red button on your digital remote allowed for personalised analysis of answers. Oh well. Youtube, a pen and pencil will have to suffice for you guys.

Early in the video we are introduced to the concept of ‘executive skills’, which are actually brain functions or cognitive skills hard-wired into every person (self-restraint, working memory, emotion control, focus, task initiation, planning/prioritisation, organisation, time management, defining and achieving goals, flexibility, observation and stress tolerance). Called executive skills because they help people execute tasks, these are the first things to suffer when one is under-rested or sleepy, leading to poor performance in day-to-day tasks such as driving and recognising faces. So it is scientifically proven that your basic functions are affected when you lose out on a good night’s sleep.

A particular participant in the documentary was offered light therapy in order to combat his sleep issues and to ensure he was ready to hit the road as a milkman. Awaking at 2am we would assume that his sleepiness would dangerously impact his driving capabilities as these require a number of the executive skills.  Therefore, by getting up at an ‘unnatural’ time, i.e. in the dark he was endangering not only his own life but also that of any other road users. Light therapy was effective in this case as it tricked the body into thinking it was indeed time to get up and proceeded to kick the brain into gear, allowing the participant to feel more alert, despite having a schedule that worked against the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is explained in the documentary as being an internal body clock that works, conveniently in 24 hour cycles and relies on the rising and setting of the sun to signify when it is time to sleep and wake up. This is why when we are not exposed to sunlight during British winters, or when we work night shifts, we tend to fall out of rhythm with nature.

Ah, how everything ties in together nicely. I’m feeling somewhat smug at the discovery of this piece of video and I’m hoping that readers will take some time out to watch it and to nod their heads in agreement at the right places thinking, “ooh, I knew that”.

There were of course things I did not know, even I can’t claim to be that informed. For example, there are 50 million snorers in the UK. How many?! And apparently of that 50 million, only 37% actually admit to snoring. Although, judging by some of the footage, I would never admit to a sound so ghastly for fear of being labelled a beast.

I was also surprised to learn the presence and effect of a chemical called Tyramine upon the sleep cycle. There is, what I presumed, an old wives’ tale that if you eat cheese too close to bedtime you risk frighteningly realistic nightmares. I put this theory to the test once, spending a week in Lille with my French tutor’s family eating only cheese and potatoes for dinner and then settling into what I presumed to be a cinematic version of my mind’s worst concoctions. I was not disappointed, the cat in the room presumably had conspired with the hunk of cheese and my hosts in order to scare me senseless during the seven hours I tossed and turned, wrestling with my quilt, screaming indecipherable French phrases. I’m a sceptic and called this a coincidence, brought about by my loathing of felines compounded by barely understanding a word of what was going on around me, despite apparently speaking fluent colloquial french in my sleep.

Thus, imagine my panic when the good old Beeb lists Tyramine as a ‘to avoid’ before sleep time. Where can this delightful gathering of atoms be found? In aged food, especially cheese! More specifically anything dried, fermented, salted, smoked or pickled. Seeing as all of my omega3 and most of my protein comes from smoked fish, I was certainly a little perturbed. I also chuckled to myself realising that often, the most absurd rumours are the most true.

Tyramine is also responsible for migraines and should be considered carefully before ingestion. This all seems to make sense when I think about a friend of mine who can not consume cheese and chocolate on the same day as this gives her debilitating migraines. Quite often when lunching we will have to forgo pizza or dessert, depending on what her breakfast consisted of!

The moral of the story is as follows:

1. A man with a moustache must never be doubted
2. Cheese really does mess with your sleep
3. Watch the video, you will learn many things

December is fast approaching and with it the shortest day of the year. However, from then on, it will be the immense build up to spring. But for now, enjoy the beginnings of the festive period, stay away from the mini quiches at Christmas dinner parties and as always, sweet dreams!


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