Ten Sleep Myths Busted
We’ve always known that sleep is the very best of nature’s healers, from skin to body to mind and especially soul. But since working with the fantastic natural sleep surface mattress brand Drift, we know how many of the things we’re told about sleep are basically made up.
Here’s a story we released last week with the help of the CBT for Insomnia therapist Dr Tania Ahern. Along with a cheeky puzzle to solve whilst you have a coffee.
SPOT THE SHEEP WHO’S FALLEN ASLEEP!
At first glance it’s a field of cheeky sheep but can you spot the one who’s fallen asleep? There’s a sheep dog too for even more eagle-eyed spotters to find.
The puzzle was created by Drift Sleep, makers of the only natural sleep surface mattress-in-a-bag, to celebrate National Bed Month this March.
Adam Black CEO Drift Sleep says: “Counting sheep is just one of the many myths perpetuated to help us get a good night’s sleep, but does it really work? We know that keeping cool on a natural sleep surface is far better for a good night’s kip than sleeping on unbreathable memory foam, so this made us think about all the other myths out there as a fun way to celebrate National Bed Month.”
Dr Tania says: “We all want to sleep well and get up ready for the day ahead and in our quest to do so over the years we’ve created so many myths. We wanted to share these with people so they can stop worrying about unnecessary problems and focus on fixing the underlying problem.”
Top TEN sleep myths:
Taking sleeping tablets ensures a good night’s sleep. Studies** have shown that sleeping tablets increase total sleep time on average by just 25 minutes. The way in which they work is twofold, both as a sedative and amnesic. Although they induce sleep onset more quickly by promoting sleepiness, the amnesic effect means that there is reduced recall of waking up during the night. There is also evidence that long-term use of sleeping medication has a negative effect on our general health and mortality.
Booze will help me drift off: Although the hypnotic effect of alcohol can induce sleep more quickly, it also has significant negative effect on sleep quantity and quality. During the first half of the night it brings on deep sleep but suppresses REM (dream) sleep. Once the alcohol has been metabolised in the body, during the second half of the night there is a ‘rebound effect’ with more episodes of wakefulness, persisting light sleep at the expense of deeper sleep, and increased REM state sleep. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol can leave one feeling less energetic and fuzzy headed the next morning.
I can make up for lost sleep at the weekend: People who keep different sleep patterns at the weekend compared with their working week, may be experiencing “social jet lag”. This refers to two thirds of the population who sleep in beyond the usual alarm time on weekend mornings, and go to bed later than they would on weeknights. Keeping this different sleep schedule disrupts the natural rise and fall in body temperature, which in turn delays onset of sleep. It also reduces the body’s ‘sleep pressure’, which is influenced by the amount of time awake prior to going to bed. Therefore blaming ‘Sunday night insomnia’ on the fact that it is return to work the next morning is misplaced, as it is the delayed fall in body temperature and reduced sleep pressure that inhibits sleep.
I need 8 hours sleep a night: There seems to be a fixation on achieving the ‘golden 8 hours’ sleep a night but the truth is everyone’s sleep needs are different. A child needs more sleep than an adult and some people are naturally shorter sleepers compared to others. The recommended sleep time for adults is 7 hours or more for optimal health. However sleeping too long (>9hours) is not necessarily beneficial, and has been associated with health risks just as not getting enough sleep (<6hours).
Teenagers don’t need more sleep – they’re just lazy: This belief is misplaced as there is robust scientific evidence showing teenagers’ natural sleep rhythms are in fact delayed by hormonal changes that occur during puberty. Therefore their natural sleep tendency is to go to bed later and get up later and they need about 9 hours sleep a night. Schools that have implemented a later start time in the morning have found improvements in academic performance and reduced daytime sleepiness and rates of depression amongst their teenage pupils.
Keeping warm at bedtime helps us get to sleep: The opposite is actually true, as our body temperature needs to drop to get to sleep. The body’s circadian rhythm, which influences physiological processes such as our core body temperature is tightly coupled to the sleep-wake cycle. In the evening the heat loss that occurs from our skin, and the reduction in core body heat promotes sleepiness. The suggestion of having a hot bath just before bedtime is inadvisable as it will prolong the time it takes for the body’s core temperature to drop. However taking a warm bath about 1hour before bedtime may well assist the process of heat loss; it is all about timing!
Good sleep must be unbroken: A misconception of modern day living. Pre- industrial revolution it was quite normal to have two distinct sleep phases (biphasic sleep) at night. The ‘first sleep would be for about four hours, then people would get up for an hour or two, use the time to socialise, interpret their dreams, have sex, before returning for the second sleep for a further four hours. This biphasic sleep was considered the norm, until the introduction of the light bulb, which changed the timings of daily activities and generally later bedtimes. Consequently the pressure to sleep in an uninterrupted monophasic pattern has become the expectation of modern day living. Our natural propensity for biphasic sleep has been supported by a study where 8 volunteers were subjected to 14hours darkness every day over the period of a month. After a few days the volunteers sleep pattern reverted back to the interrupted two sleep phases, in keeping with historical pattern.
Eating certain foods late at night can cause nightmares: There is surprisingly little research looking at the link between types of food and dreams, but one study* revealed it may be our attitude to food and emotional factors that influence our dream content. In particular, individuals with a healthy diet and longer intervals between eating tended to have more pleasant and vivid dreams. Conversely those with uncontrolled or emotional eating habits were more likely to have disturbing dreams.
Counting sheep gets you to sleep: Sleep scientists have disproved this age-old advice. In a Study undertaken by a team of psychologists at Oxford University, 50 insomniac volunteers were divided into 3 groups with a different bedtime routine. The first group were told to count sheep; the second group to imagine a pleasant scene such as a holiday or idyllic place, and the third group were left to their own devices. The results showed the group visualising pleasant imagery at bedtime got to sleep on average 20 minutes earlier than nights when they didn’t apply this technique. In contrast the group counting sheep and those left to their own devices took 40 minutes longer to get to sleep than usual.
I have no dream recall therefore I don’t dream: Dream research as shown that we dream about 4-6 times every night. Our dreams become longer as sleep progresses, ranging from about 4 minutes in early sleep cycles up to 30 minutes later on. 80% of dreaming occurs in REM (rapid eye movement) state, where our brains are highly active, in a paralysed body to stop us acting out our dreams. REM dreams are characterised by their highly bizarre and emotionally charged content. Our dream recall is better when we wake directly out of REM sleep. The remaining 20% of dreaming occurs in NREM, and tends to be more rational and realistic. The ability to recall our dreams depends on which sleep state we wake from, with REM dreams being easier to recall than NREM dreams.
Dr Tania Ahern is a sleep consultant to natural sleep surface mattress company Drift Sleep.