Are your snacking habits hitting the snooze button on the brain alarm clock ?

orexin the wake up alarmIt is late afternoon – your get up and go, has got and left.

The current slump is unresponsive to your usual chemical fix i.e. cup of caffeine laced coffee.

What should you do ?

Packing up and going home is not an option, neither is catching 40 winks whilst staring at your computer screen, since your boss is hovering.

Sugar “fix”

Odds are you would try a sugar snack, reasoning that the brain runs on sugar, so providing the brain with a quick sugar fix should lift your energy level.

Of course, using this brain fix on a routine basis could leave you with a weight problem that will need fixing later.

Research from the University of Cambridge, suggests munching a bite of protein would be a far better brain fix, than that spoonful of sugar.

Keeping awake

Several chemicals control how awake and energized you feel.

One set of chemicals which plays a big role in wakefulness and energy expenditure is orexin/hypocretin.

In fact, orexin neurons act a lot like your internal alarm clock.

When these neurons are on, they send out electrical signals which are irritating enough to wake everyone else up.

Fortunately orexin cells are thin on the ground – so the wake up call is a fairly muted affair. A low buzz enures alertness, without panic. Something bedside alarm clocks don’t always get right.

Of course, there are pathologies in which orexin neurons malfunction, narcolepsy is one such problem.

What triggers our alarm clock

Sugar feeds the brain, so it is logical to assume sugar would trigger the orexin alarm clock.

But research from the University of Cambridge suggests the orexin alarm clock is not particularly fired up by carbs. In fact, just the opposite happens – glucose hits the snooze button on the clock.

sugar silencing the orexin alarm clock

In fact, the sleepy feelings which often follow a big meal, are probably caused by the post-prandial glucose spike hitting the snooze button.

So a sugar snack may lift the spirits by providing a dab of dopamine, but it won’t actually shake you awake.

Protein hides the snooze button

Just like most of us tend to reach for the snooze button when the alarm rudely interrupts our dreams, the body has a habit of hitting the snooze button, since sugars are always around.

It takes a dose of protein to block the snooze button response.

The Cambridge team discovered the presence of amino acids, nutrients found in proteins such as eggs, ended up triggering the alarm and waking the neighbouring cells.

Eat to sleep or not

More evidence that calories are not created equal.

All meals, including your mid-afternoon snack, should include a touch of protein, to fire off enough orexin to wake up your brain.

Ideally, aim to obey the rule of thirds – 1/3 protein, 1/3 fat and 1/3 carbohydrate, this will also keep inflammation in check plus keep you bright eyed and bushy tailed.

PS. If you want to snooze, watch the level of protein intake just before you climb into bed. You don’t want to wake up all the neurons in your head, just as your head hits the pillow.

Activation of Central Orexin/Hypocretin Neurons by Dietary Amino Acids. Neuron, 2011; 72 (4): 616. Mahesh M. Karnani, John Apergis-Schoute, Antoine Adamantidis, Lise T. Jensen, Luis de Lecea, Lars Fugger, Denis Burdakov.

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Further reading

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Obesity the ticking time bomb is actually stopping the clock Proper staff management the secret to avoiding accumulating excess fat Old eyes can’t wake the sandman up

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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  1. [...] Are your snacking habits hitting the snooze button on the brain alarm clock ? [...]

  2. By » Blog Archive » Round up 13 Feb – 17 Feb on March 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

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