An idea for recovering from sleepless nights: cardiac coherence

Did you know ?, Sleep hygiene

We’ve all experienced sleepless nights for various reasons. Maybe we overthought things all night, the baby wouldn’t stop crying, or the party was too fun to leave. If sleepless nights become too frequent, it’s important to be concerned and consult a sleep specialist. However, if they are occasional, simply adopting the right habits can help you recover more easily.

What happens when you pull an all-nighter?

We don’t fully understand the functions of sleep, but we recently learned that it allows our body to clean out various waste products accumulated in our nervous system throughout the day. On the other hand, the effects of sleep deprivation are well known: difficulties with concentration and memory, loss of spatial and temporal orientation, weakened immunity, increased appetite, anxiety, reduced frustration tolerance, and physiological changes such as increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), insulin (the storage hormone), and ghrelin (the hunger hormone), as well as decreased levels of leptin (the satiety hormone).

There are two main mechanisms that regulate sleep: homeostatic and circadian. When we burn energy throughout the day, we accumulate a molecule called adenosine. Once adenosine reaches a certain threshold, it triggers the homeostatic need for sleep. At the same time, our sleep is regulated by our circadian rhythm, which is roughly aligned with the sun’s cycle and has a duration of about 24 hours. As the light dims, our body gradually produces melatonin, the sleep hormone. Once melatonin reaches a certain “onset point,” it triggers the circadian need for sleep. If these systems are disrupted, or if we fight against them with intense light, caffeine, or activity, adenosine accumulates while the circadian rhythm continues its normal course.

After an all-nighter, we are left with an accumulation of metabolic waste, and the associated symptoms persist. Additionally, because our circadian rhythm has continued its course, it’s no longer the right time to sleep in the morning. Doing so could prevent us from sleeping the following night, potentially leading to a phase delay process.

What should you do to recover from an all-nighter?

Firstly, rather than going to bed in the early morning, it’s advisable, if possible, to take a restorative nap in the early afternoon. However, this nap should be short (maximum 20 minutes) to avoid disrupting the following night’s sleep. It’s best to set an alarm. Then, aim to go to bed at a reasonable hour based on your schedule for the next day ensuring a night of at least 8 hours. For the same reasons as before, it’s important to avoid excessively lengthening the night to prevent a phase delay. It’s also recommended to opt for a light diet rich in vitamins to boost energy levels without accumulating more metabolic waste.

Additionally, there are recovery techniques based on relaxation breathing. In particular, the practice of cardiac coherence can be recommended.

What can cardiac coherence bring after an all-nighter?

From one heartbeat to another, the heart rate naturally varies depending on our cognitive and emotional state. When simply taking our pulse, these variations go completely unnoticed since the rhythm itself remains stable, but there are indeed variations, sometimes significant. By stabilizing these variations, we “smooth out” the heartbeats and achieve a state known as cardiac coherence. To achieve this balance, specific cardio-respiratory exercises can be practiced. With training, this state of balance occurs more quickly and is maintained for longer periods after exercise.

As seen, sleep deprivation leads, among other things, to an increase in cortisol and insulin levels. However, studies have shown that cardiac coherence reduces cortisol levels and insulin resistance. Consequently, after an all-nighter, cardiac coherence helps better manage the induced undesirable effects. Specifically, it is recommended to practice cardiac coherence according to the 365 pattern: 365 days a year, 3 times a day, 6 breaths per minute, for 5 minutes each time. Additionally, after an all-nighter, it’s advised to practice it whenever stress or frustration overwhelms us.

Guides exist to help achieve the proper respiratory regularity during the exercise. It’s also possible to test one’s state of cardiac coherence with a professional before and after the exercise.

By Audrey Charial, nutritionist and micronutritionist.