Aaron Chy, BSc General, PharmD Student
It’s the start of a new day! The world around you may be waking up, but you barely slept last night. With your eyes heavy and your brain still foggy, you drag yourself through your morning routine and do your best to take on the day. Whether it was a late night out with friends, a long work project, or just a night of bad sleep, we’ve all had to deal with sleep deprivation before. And, more than likely, we’ll have to deal with it again and again throughout our lives.
“Sleep is for the weak”
We all know someone who seems to get by every day with little to no sleep. Similarly, whenever the question of how much sleep you really need comes up, everyone seems to have a different answer. The truth is, although the current national average is about 6 – 9 hours, the amount of sleep each person gets each night varies. This is because not everyone needs the same amount.1 Lifestyle, daily demands, and even genetics play a role in the number of hours we all need to feel refreshed.2 At the end of the day, the most important and useful thing we can do to feel rested is to keep a consistent sleep-wake schedule throughout the week – including our days off. This is because the body naturally operates on a 24-hour internal clock. As we fall into a pattern of regular sleep, our body adjusts to the routine and aligns itself with the sleep schedule we’ve set up. This can improve natural, spontaneous waking, which is when you wake up fully energized before your alarm even goes off. On the other hand, sleeping-in on the weekend is enough to throw off this schedule and start the week off on the wrong foot.3
A poor sleep schedule inevitably leads to sleep deprivation, whether it be due to fewer hours of sleep, a worse quality sleep, or both. The effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Negative emotional changes, including increased feelings of irritability, aggression, anxiety and emotional instability
- Lack of focus and impaired cognitive function that can last up to two-days, even after returning to regular amounts of sleep
- Slower and poorer-quality decision making
- Reduced ability to multitask
- Impaired learning ability
When you factor in all the responsibilities you have every day, and consider that your ability to complete any of them can suffer from sleep deprivation, the value of a proper sleep schedule becomes clear. For that reason, clinicians always recommend practicing good sleep hygiene; this means having a set of healthy routines that promote good quality sleep. Some examples include:
- Having a relaxing pre-bed ritual devoid of bright lights and sounds
- Avoiding naps
- Avoiding stimulants
- Exercising regularly
When real life doesn’t give you what you want
If you’ve made it this far, I know what you’re thinking – everyone knows the value of sleep! The reality is, with a busy lifestyle, it just isn’t always possible to get the sleep we need. What can we do when we’re short on sleep day-in and day-out? The answer may have something to do with creatine.
Creatine is a molecule naturally produced within our bodies. It plays an important role in muscle contraction and the release of energy. For this reason, creatine is a very popular workout supplement that many weightlifters and bodybuilders swear by. However, some recent research is beginning to show that creatine may have mentally stimulating effects as well. Across various studies, performed on both mice and humans, creatine appears to fight-off the effects of sleep deprivation, as well as reduce the severity of sleep deprivation’s effect on mental ability. Some findings include the following benefits (compared to sleep-deprived people not taking creatine):4-6
- Positive effects on mood
- Reduced need for sleep
- Improved skill learning
- Improved performance on tasks that involve the brain’s prefrontal cortex – which is associated with complex planning and decision making
What’s the takeaway, and is it safe?
The good news is that creatine supplementation wasn’t associated with any major side effects or negative outcomes across the studies that were performed. However, these studies did rely on fairly high doses of creatine (up to 5 grams, four times a day) to achieve an effect. Needless to say, this is no small amount for the average person, whether or not they’re already supplementing for athletic purposes. For that reason, it’s important to consult a healthcare practitioner before starting any form of supplement, regardless of dose. That said, these results do imply that there are some benefits to this popular supplement. In addition, it’s been found that low doses of caffeine may have similar effects – particularly in those who have historically had a low caffeine intake.4-6
In the end, the takeaway here is that the best medicine is a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to understand that no matter how determined or busy we can get, we’re all ultimately human and need a good night’s rest in order to be at our best every day. However, for those out there who want to push the envelope, with the right information, it’s possible creatine may help you do just that.
We hope you took away something valuable or interesting from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
- The National Sleep Foundation https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need-0
- Ying, H., Christopher R., J., Nobuhiro, F., Ying, X., Bin, G., Jimmy L. Holder, J., & … Ying-Hui, F. (2009). The Transcriptional Repressor DEC2 Regulates Sleep Length in Mammals. Science, (5942), 866. doi:10.1126/science.1174443
- Born, J., Hansen, K., Marshall, L., Molle, M., & Fehm, H. L. (1999). Timing the end of nocturnal sleep. Nature, 29.
- Dworak, M., Kim, T., McCarley, R. W., & Basheer, R. (2017). Creatine-supplementation reduces sleep need and homeostatic sleep pressure in rats. Journal of Sleep Research, 26(3), 377–385. http://doi.org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/10.1111/jsr.12523
- McMorris, T., Harris, R.C., Swain, J. et al. Psychopharmacology (2006) 185: 93. https://doi-org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/10.1007/s00213-005-0269-z
- Cook, C. J., Crewther, B. T., Kilduff, L. P., Drawer, S., & Gaviglio, C. M. (2011). Skill execution and sleep deprivation: effects of acute caffeine or creatine supplementation – a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 8, 2. http://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-8-2