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Putting sleep myths to bed: experts answer the questions that keep you awake at night

Eating before bed

It is important to leave at least a couple of hours between eating and sleeping. 

There is a whole raft of so-called sleepy foods – anything containing tryptophan, serotonin, melatonin, magnesium, calcium, potassium – often eaten in the hope they will aid sleep. 

If you do want to eat these foods, do it because it’s a nice ritual, not because you need it to sleep.

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Putting sleep myths to bed: experts answer the questions that keep you awake at night

Putting sleep myths to bed: experts answer the questions that keep you awake at night

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/31/putting-sleep-myths-to-bed-experts-on-insomnia

theguardian.com

10

Key Ideas

How alcohol affects sleep

A lot of the symptoms associated with a hangover are a product of sleep deprivation.

Alcohol affects our ability to get into what is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the bulk of which occurs in the last two-thirds of the night. As a rule of thumb, it takes about an hour to metabolize one unit of alcohol, so if you have a 250ml glass of wine at 7 pm it will mostly be out of your system by 10.30pm.

Eating before bed

It is important to leave at least a couple of hours between eating and sleeping. 

There is a whole raft of so-called sleepy foods – anything containing tryptophan, serotonin, melatonin, magnesium, calcium, potassium – often eaten in the hope they will aid sleep. 

If you do want to eat these foods, do it because it’s a nice ritual, not because you need it to sleep.

A cure for sleepwalking

There isn’t a cure. 

People who sleepwalk usually are advised to keep their room safe by locking windows and doors, and to maintain what’s called good sleep hygiene: keep to a regular sleep routine, turn mobile phones off, avoid stimulants, and so on. Sleepwalking can often occur as a result of poor or disrupted sleep.

The Possibility of Sleeping too much

  • There is some evidence that suggests that if you sleep excessively, your risk of mortality increases, but it remains controversial.
  • Teenagers naturally have a delay in their sleep phase because the production of the hormone melatonin (which aids sleep) gets released later as a product of puberty. This means they naturally want to go to bed and get up later.

The cures for insomnia

Acceptance is important.

If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up, go to another room and do a calming activity, then go back to bed. If you are lying in bed unable to sleep, your brain will soon start associating lying in bed with being awake.

Napping

Napping must be natural because so many cultures have siestas. But often the desire to nap in adults comes from insufficient sleep during the night. There are reports showing that excessive napping can be associated with negative health outcomes

Sleeping pills

Sleeping pills depress the central nervous system, so they feed into biochemical changes that occur in the brain, causing you to drop off to sleep. 

Unlike the brain circuitry, they wash the entire brain in these chemicals so there are other unwanted effects. They reduce the amount of time you spend in the deepest stages of sleep, and people get used to them and require increasing doses. It is better to look at the underlying cause of your sleep problem, which is often psychological.

Sleep paralysis

We are paralyzed during REM sleep, and we believe that this is so we don’t act out our dreams. 

A small percentage of the population wake up in REM sleep, but the brain forgets to wake the muscles so they get this scary state where they are paralyzed but awake. It is completely harmless, although it can feel terrifying.

Why People fall asleep on the sofa

... while watching TV, but then can’t sleep when they go to bed.

During a nap, you dissipate some of your sleep pressure. The brain can only produce so much sleep over 24 hours. If you use some of it up on snoozing in front of the telly, there is less left for the night.

Using the snooze function

The optimal way to wake up is naturally. If someone is hitting the snooze button, it suggests they are not getting enough sleep or they are sleeping at the wrong time for them. If you are a habitual snooze button user, reset your alarm to the later time and get more consolidated sleep.

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Keep in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle

  • Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day;
  • Avoid sleeping in, even on weekends;
  • Limit naps to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon;

Melatonin

Is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. 

Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark, making you sleepy, and less when it’s light, making you more alert. 

However, many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s production of melatonin and shift your circadian rhythm

Influence exposure to ligh

During the day:

  • Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning. 
  • Spend more time outside during daylight. 
  • Let as much natural light into your home or workspace as possible.

At night:

  • Avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime.
  • Say no to late-night television.
  • Don’t read with backlit devices. 
  • When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark.
  • Keep the lights down if you get up during the night.

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Snoring isn’t harmful

Although snoring may be harmless for most people, it can be a symptom of a life-threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea, especially if it is accompanied by severe daytime sleepiness. 

You can "cheat" on sleep

Sleep experts say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health, and safety. 

The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.

Turning up the radio

... opening the window, or turning on the air conditioner are effective ways to stay awake when driving.

These "aids" are ineffective and can be dangerous to the person who is driving while feeling drowsy or sleepy. 

It's best to pull off the road in a safe rest area and take a nap for 15-45 minutes. Caffeinated beverages can help overcome drowsiness for a short period of time. 

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Slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) – SWS

About 80% of our sleeping is of the SWS variety, identified by slow brain waves, relaxed muscles and deep breathing.

Deep sleep is important for the consolidation of memories. New experience...

Rapid eye movement (dreaming) - REM

Dreaming accounts for 20% of our sleeping time.

The length of dreams can vary from a few seconds to almost an hour. During REM sleep, the brain is highly active. The muscles are paralyzed, and the heart rate increases. Breathing can become erratic. 

Sleep quantity

Although eight hours is the common mention, optimum sleep can vary from person to person and from age to age.

One review that worked through 320 research articles concluded 7 - 9 hours of sleep are enough for adults. According to experts, too little or too much sleep can both have a negative impact on your health.

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