If you're among the 1 in 3 who has trouble sleeping, we're here to set a few things straight about the myths that could be keeping you awake...
Lack of sleep isn’t just annoying – not to mention exhausting – but it could also be detrimental to your health. Studies show that not getting enough shuteye has been linked to multiple health concerns, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Another reason to get a good night’s shuteye? Losing sleep can also make you gain weight!
But sometimes a night’s sweet slumber simply won’t come. Most people know to avoid caffeine before bedtime, and opt for a warm, milky drink instead but what else can you do when just you can’t get a decent night’s kip? For starters, you can get the facts about the best (and worst) ways for how to get to sleep. That’s why we’ve rounded up six common sleeping myths and asked the experts whether or not they’re actually true – and if not, what to do instead!
The first sleeping myth? Napping can make you more tired.
The truth is that it’s all about how long you nap for. A power nap of five to 20 minutes unloads the brain and could make up for a small sleep debt the night before. But after 20 minutes the brain might move into its deeper slow-wave sleep, leaving you groggy when you wake up. This isn’t just an unpleasant sensation, but will also hurt your chances for how to get to sleep later on in the evening.
So what’s the solution? Be ruthless and limit a nap to 20 minutes. And don’t nap after 3pm, as this is when your body’s levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin begin to rise, signalling to the brain that it’s time to wind down. Who knew?
Keep reading to discover five more myths and expert tips for how to get to sleep (number four is a real shocker!)…
Truth: In fact, even vigorous exercise before bedtime doesn’t cause sleep problems for many people, and according to new research by The Sleep Council, it might even be beneficial.
Solution: ‘As long as you wind down, exercising shouldn’t affect your sleep’, says sleep expert Dr Ramlakhan. She recommends downloading yoga moves. ‘My favourite is Child’s Pose’, she says, ‘where you kneel down and rest your chest on your thighs and your head on the floor, followed by Legs up the Wall and Corpse Pose. Hold each for up to five minutes, accompanied by deep, slow-breathing – it’s the ulimate pre-bed relaxation routine.’
Truth: True, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill famously thrived on less sleep, but they’re a rarity. Most of us need seven to eight hours. How do the brief-sleep people manage? ‘Sleep is genetically determined’, says sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley. So if your mum and dad were short sleepers, you may be too.
Solution: Recognise the signs you’re not getting enough sleep, such as cravings for sweets, caffeine and carbs, and wanting to go back to sleep as soon as you wake up. Conversely, if you wake up without an alarm at the same time every day – with only four or five hours’ sleep – you could be among the few genuine ‘short sleepers’.
Truth: The long weekend lie-in may seem like a tempting antidote to a week of late nights, but recent research found that those who were sleep-deprived had impaired concentration even after their ‘recovery sleep’ at the weekend. ‘Lie-ins and long naps at the weekend disrupt our body clocks during the week,’ says Professor Espie.
Solution: If you miss some sleep one night, you can catch up the next night with little problem, says Dr Stanley. But two or more nights can’t be remedied by a weekend lie-in. Instead, getting into the habit of waking up at the same time everyday, even at the weekend, will train your body to use the time it has to get the best night’s sleep.
Truth: Insomnia affects a third of us, with worry and stress keeping most of us awake at night. A classic mistake is to go to bed too early.
Solution: Build up your ‘sleep pressure’ says Professor Colin Espie, a sleep specialist at the University of Oxford, which is about being active enough to make yourself truly tired. The less you care about sleep, the more likely it is to happen. If you wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, start to think about this as a good thing, time to chill out in your warm bed and relax. Eating foods during the day that increase your levels of sleep neurotransmitters is also worth trying. These include wholegrain breads, fruits (especially bananas and cherries) and protein-rich foods including beef, salmon, pork, herring and turkey.
Truth: An experiment by TV medic Dr Michael Mosley found that those who had an hour’s less shut-eye than normal struggled with mental agility tests the next day. More alarmingly, after a week, blood tests revealed that processes in their bodies, associated with inflammation, immune response and stress became more active. In addition, there were even increases in the activity of genes associated with cancer and diabetes risk. However, in people who slept an extra hour the process was reversed.
Solution: Electronic devices and energy-efficient light bulbs emit blue light waves, which signal to the brain that it’s still daytime. The answer is to impose an ‘electronic sundown’ of 60 minutes in which you switch off phones, tablets and laptops before bed and keep your pre-bed light exposure to a minimum.