Common sleep myths
We all know and have felt the ill effects of a bad night’s sleep on our ability to maintain focus, concentration and good mood but there are some rather unpleasant hidden effects on the body as well.
After just one night’s bad sleep, stress chemicals such as cortisol are raised, causing widespread inflammation in the body and lowering resistance to infection.
Poor sleep can also suppress your metabolism, make you crave unhealthy foods and even negatively impact your creativity! No wonder Alfred Vogel called sleep ‘the one remedy we cannot do without’.
So what are some common sleep related myths?
1. 6 hours is more than enough
Well, Margaret Thatcher may have claimed to have run the country on 4 hours sleep a night, and it is true that individual sleep needs are varied, but the average adult needs between 7-9 hours per night, no less. Of course, you may be able to get through the day on less but that does not mean you are functioning at your best or not damaging your body in the long term.
2. All sleep is good sleep.
Not true! The quality of sleep you get is just as important as the amount. There are 4 stages of sleep, plus REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and you move through each during the night in a cycle that lasts approximately 90 minutes. Stage 4 (deep sleep) is where the body repairs itself from its exertions during the day.
REM sleep, the stage where you dream, is the stage when your brain refreshes itself and is the stage that is important for mood, memory and learning. If you do not get enough of either deep sleep or REM sleep, you will feel tired and not rested even if you have had 8 hours sleep.
3. You can ‘catch up’ on sleep at weekends.
While having a lie-in may feel beneficial at the time, there is plenty of research to show that the body does not simply undo the ill effects of poor sleep with a couple of lie-ins. In a recent study, healthy volunteers were deprived of sleep for 6 nights and then allowed to sleep for up to ten hours for 3 consecutive nights.
While the extra sleep did correct the ill effects of sleep deprivation in the volunteers’ cortisol levels and feelings of fatigue, it did not return their mental performance to the level it was at before the sleep deprivation began. In addition, sleeping late at the weekend will upset your wake/sleep cycle for the week ahead. A regular, consistent sleep pattern is the best thing to aim for.
4. It is normal to feel like nodding off in the afternoon/need a loud alarm clock to wake up/wake up frequently during the night.
All these are signs that you are not getting enough sleep, or enough good quality sleep.
5. You need less sleep as you get older.
As we age, changes in the hormones that regulate sleep do alter the wake/sleep cycle, but the total amount of sleep we need does not change dramatically. Older people may need to go to bed earlier, or nap during the day in order to get the amount of sleep they need.
So how can we get enough sleep?
Obviously, everyone is different and the only way to sleep well is to experiment and find what works for you. While there is no one thing that will work for everyone, there are some basic tips that should help if you would like the benefits that good sleep can bring:
– Keep it consistent
It may sound too simple, but going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is the best way for a long term sleep solution.
– Try herbs
Extracts of valerian, such as Dormeasan®, have been shown to increase the time spent in REM sleep, so if you feel your sleep is not of good enough quality, this may be the remedy for you. If anxiety/stress during the day is your problem, making it hard to switch off at night, try extracts of calming herbs, such as AvenaCalm, or Bach flower essences instead.
– Lights out!
The ‘switch’ that turns our sleep inducing hormones on at night is darkness. It is worth dimming lights in the evening to prepare the body for sleep and avoiding powerful sources of light, such as TVs and laptops, for at least an hour before bedtime.
– It’s true, cheese can give you nightmares
What you eat at night and when you eat it will affect your sleep. You do not want to go to bed starving hungry, but if your body is busy digesting food it will not be able to rest enough for sleep. Try to allow at least 2 hours before bed to digest dinner, and avoid rich, heavy fatty food as it is so hard to digest.