Healthy Sleeping Habits

How to Break Free From the Caffeine-to-Cabernet Cycle

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Photo: Stocksy/Alexey Kuzma

Though "coffee-to-Cabernet" sounds like a hipster hotspot, it's not whimsical, charming, nor (exclusively) Brooklyn-based. You clicked on this article for a reason, which is likely that you are all too familiar with this daily cycle: You can't wake up without caffeine and you can't unwind without a near-overflowing glass of fermented grape juice.

You're not alone. Well+Good Council member Robin Berzin, MD, says she sees this pattern all too often with her clients at Parsley Health. "Chronic, poor-quality sleep due to things like not getting enough hours, going to bed too late, anxiety, and looking at screens before bed take a toll over time, and people wake up exhausted," she says. The result: You rely on coffee to fuel your day and a nightcap to counteract its stimulating effects before bed.

While both coffee and wine have been shown to provide some health benefits when consumed in moderation, health researcher Max Lugavere points out that it's that "need to have it" feeling that's negative. "We tend to develop codependent relationships with these compounds," he says. "Whereas our relationships with them should be more interdependent—it's like with a significant other; you shouldn't need to be with them, but you should want to be with them and you should be able to enjoy their company in a way that's not destructive."

You rely on coffee to fuel your day and a nightcap to counteract its stimulating effects before bed.

If you're anything like me, you're now picturing what it would be like to need your partner in the way that you need coffee. Can you imagine groggily rolling out of bed and walking, bleary-eyed, directly towards your boyfriend or girlfriend and telling them that you can't start your day without them? It would be sweet, maybe, but also kind of terrifying.

Dr. Berzin walks me through the science behind this two-tiered addiction. "Coffee, a stimulant, triggers catecholamines like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and hormones like cortisol to keep you going," she explains. "These natural chemicals increase blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as heighten awareness and can trigger anxiety."

A lot of people, Lugavere adds, rely on coffee in the morning as well as in the afternoon in order to compensate for poor lunch choices that cause blood sugar to skyrocket but ultimately fail to sustain your energy. By the end of the day, this coffee consumption can leave you feeling dehydrated, drained, and on edge. "To compensate, many people turn to alcohol in the evenings, which stimulates GABA [neurotransmitters] in the brain and is a natural depressant," Dr. Berzin explains. As you are likely well aware, this can help to calm your nerves, but it can also disrupt your sleep. The result? Next-day exhaustion which leads to—you guessed it—more caffeine consumption. "Even a glass or two of wine can decrease the number of times you reach deep sleep, leading to more fatigue," she says.

Lugavere posits that if you're just having a cup or two of coffee in the morning and the occasional glass of red wine at night (as in like, twice a week) , your body can adjust just fine. However, if you've found yourself trapped in this cycle, read on.

Below, Dr. Berzin shares her expertise for breaking free of your co-dependent relationship with these two beverages.

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1. Get adequate sleep

First thing's first. You need to be getting enough quality sleep each night, says Dr. Berzin, who swears by these easy tips:

Supplement for support 
Try adding magnesium supplements into your bedtime routine because they can help you fall into a deeper sleep and stay asleep longer. For those nights sleep poses an extra challenge, you may also want to try this super-charged-for-sleep magnesium powder, which has also has GABA (the same calming chemical you get from wine) in it, as your nightcap alternative.

Eat right at night
Some foods will disrupt your sleep, so it's important to be mindful of what you eat in the hours before bed. Processed foods, spicy foods, and even chocolate are all to be avoided.

Try sleep-friendly tech
Though blue light from your smartphone or computer screen can keep you up, other forms of technology may help you get better zzz's. Sleep tech is the next big thing, and products like smart mattresses and sleep trackers can seriously transform the way you snooze.

Sleep in
If you're the kind of person who goes to bed at midnight and then pulls themselves out of bed at 5 a.m. for a run, stop. Exercise is important, but you shouldn't actually skip sleep in order to get it. Instead, try going to bed earlier; or, if that's impossible, organically work physical activity into your normal waking hours.

Photo: Stocksy/Gillian Vann

2. Eat for sustained energy

If you eat a balanced diet (a mix of protein, simple carbs, veggies, and little processed sugar), you shouldn't need to rely on caffeine to keep going—and in turn, are less likely to need wine to chill out. "The No. 1 thing you can do to maintain energy throughout the day is to limit coffee to one serving and avoid simple carbs and sugar in the mornings as well as at lunch," Dr. Berzin says. Here, digestible swaps and suggestions to eat healthy all day:

Steal your energizing morning meal from Karlie Kloss and opt for healthy fats and veggies instead of sugary cereals. (Or, take your cues from other Well+Good readers.)

Check out these tips for ordering the healthiest salad possible . If you're not so much a salad person, try these 3-ingredient lunch recipes instead.

Afternoon snack
If you misstep on either meal, however, all is not lost. Avoid a sugar binge by trying these protein-packed vegan snack recipes or borrow these ideas for snacks that wellness execs keep at their desks.

Photo: Stocksy/Jovo Jovanovich

3. Learn new ways to unwind at night

Dr. Berzin advises her patients to "master other means of finding calm and a positive mood in the evening." She suggests a slew of healthy alternatives to a generous pour—taking a walk, steaming in a sauna, soaking in an Epsom salt bath, participating in a yoga class, cooking a meal with friends, or meditating (which can curb alcohol cravings) as options.

And you'll also want to limit your alcohol consumption to two to three evenings per week, max. Luckily, sober socializing is on the rise, and even college students are opting out of the Solo-cup scene. This time of year, however, can be especially tough for those looking to cut back. These festive mocktail recipes may help see you through to the new year without a hangover.

Staying alert at work can be tough without those extra cups of coffee. Try these energizing essential oils and pay some attention to your office lighting. At night, try Mandy Moore's simple and fun trick for crushing anxiety.

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