The seven biggest sleep myths busted
MYTH: You can “cheat” sleep debt
FACT: Let’s face it, our busy lives mean we all burn the candle at both ends during the week and “sleep debt” creeps up on us like nobody’s business.
Unfortunately it’s not simply a case of catching up on lost zzzzs at the weekend. Studies show this only gives temporary recovery and, as the day goes on, reaction times drop to around 10 times slower than they were earlier in the day. Sleeping late at the weekend can also disrupt your sleep cycle for the week ahead.
We need between seven and nine hours’ rest each night to function at our best, but if you DO find yourself caught short of a good night’s shuteye, a two-hour next-day nap is one of the most effective ways to offset the negative effects.
MYTH: Insomnia is simply difficulty dropping off
FACT: There are actually four symptoms of insomnia. Alongside not being able to fall asleep, there’s waking up too early and not being able to drift off again, waking up repeatedly throughout the night, and waking feeling unrefreshed (we’re feeling tired just thinking about it!). Up to half of adults suffer from insomnia and women are three times more likely to than men.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, as well as ditching caffeine and alcohol and avoiding exercise and electronics close to snooze time, try keeping your bedroom cool, at around 16-18°C (60-65°F), and create a regular sleep routine so your body knows it’s time to wind down.
MYTH: Alcohol helps you zzzzzz better
FACT: Some people use alcohol to help when they can’t sleep. However, while you may feel a good glug calms you and helps you drop off, it actually boosts the number of times you wake during the night. You’ll also spend less time in restorative deep sleep and more in the less restful REM stage so the benefits are lessened.
Try a hot, milky or herbal drink such as chamomile instead of reaching for the wine, and consider taking magnesium, which is thought to help muscles relax and assist with drifting off.
MYTH: Eating turkey makes you sleepy
FACT: We’ve all been victim of the post-Christmas lunch slump on December 25 but is turkey to blame? It’s commonly believed the sleepy chemical tryptophan in turkey has the effect of sending us to sleep. However, turkey contains no more tryptophan than other meats. It’s much more likely that the large meal, OTT drinking and dip in our body’s natural circadian rhythms combine to send us into the land of nod.
Boost energy levels after any lunchtime meal by chewing gum; a university study found students who chewed gum right before a test performed better than those who didn’t, especially in memory and recall. But chewing for longer than 15 to 20 minutes can actually cause a drop in mental performance, so don’t overdo it!
MYTH: Snoozing less keeps you thin
FACT: Most people think the more time you’re awake, the more active you’ll be, burning up calories and staying slimmer. Makes sense, right? Surprisingly, studies show cutting back on sleep can actually have the opposite effect, increasing your chance of gaining weight. Being tired reduces natural appetite-suppressants, and boosts a hormone called ghrelin, which triggers hunger. Sleep deprivation also results in lower levels of the hormone leptin, kickstarting a starvation-like response in the body. Brain imaging has also shown that tired individuals are much more likely to make poor food choices generally. Ditch the diet for the duvet? The stuff that dreams are made of.
MYTH: Never wake a sleepwalker
FACT: Sleepwalking affects around 20 per cent of children, and it usually runs in the family, (although most adults grow out of it – phew!). Sleepwalkers have been known to do wild things including eat strange objects, go for a drive, swim in lakes and in the most extreme cases, climb tall cranes and even commit crimes. Thankfully, sleepwalking’s usually just a dozy stroll. It’s said if you wake a sleepwalker, you could shock them into a heart attack, but there’s no proof of this.
While waking them isn’t advised as it may distress them and even cause them to lash out, you can gently turn them around, reassure them they’re safe, and guide them back to bed. If their safety’s at risk, wake them from a distance, making a loud, sharp noise, like blowing a whistle or banging a pan. Tying a bell to the sleepwalker’s bedroom door will also alert you that they’re on the move, so you can help get them back to bed sooner. Now you can sleep easy.
MYTH: Snoring is harmless
FACT: Snoring can be a sign of a bigger problem, especially if it leaves you feeling incredibly tired throughout the day. Sleep apnea is a condition where people wake frequently – sometimes hundreds of times – during the night, gasping for breath. This can put a huge strain on your heart (who knew?).
If you have a snoring issue, check with a doctor it’s not serious. If it’s not sleep apnea these tricks might work: change your sleeping position so you’re lying on your side, avoid alcohol before bedtime and drink plenty of water. An acupressure anti-snoring ring may help.
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Effects of Sleep and Sleep Deprivation on Interleukin-6, Growth Hormone, Cortisol, and Melatonin Levels in Humans, Laura Redwine, Richard L. Hauger, J. Christian Gillin, Michael Irwin,
Partial Night Sleep Deprivation Reduces Natural Killer and Cellular Immune Responses in Humans, M Irwin, J McClintick, C Costlow, M Fortner, J White, and J C Gillin
Implications of Sleep Restriction and Recovery on Metabolic Outcomes, Roo Killick, Siobhan Banks, Peter Y. Liu
Daytime Napping After a Night of Sleep Loss Decreases Sleepiness, Improves Performance, and Causes Beneficial Changes in Cortisol and Interleukin-6 Secretion, Vgontzas AN, Pejovic S, Zoumakis E, Lin HM, Bixler EO, Basta M, Fang J, Sarrigiannidis A, Chrousos GP.
Cognitive Advantages of Chewing Gum. Now You See Them, Now You Don’t, Serge V. Onyper, Timothy L. Carr, John S. Farrar, Brittney R. Floyd