If there’s one topic consistently causing waves in the wellness world, it’s sleep, or a lack of it. With scores of studies recently linking sleep deprivation with everything from diabetes to depression, it’s never been more on-trend to hit snooze. We caught up with neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep Matthew Walker to dispel some common sleep myths...
A Lack Of Sleep Is Deadly
The overarching message in the book is simple – the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Every major disease that is killing us in the developed world is linked to insufficient sleep, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular problems, stroke, obesity and diabetes. A lack of sleep has also been linked to psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and even most recently, suicide. Driving while drowsy has even been proven to be more dangerous than driving while drunk. In short: sleep is not an optional lifestyle luxury – instead, it’s a non-negotiable biological necessity.
Napping Isn’t Always Good For You
If you don’t struggle with your sleep and can nap regularly, then naps are just fine. However, if you do struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, then try to avoid napping during the day – especially in the late afternoon – in order to build up a healthy sleepiness in the evening. To avoid feeling groggy after a nap, avoid snoozing for longer than 40 or 50 minutes.
It’s In Your Genes
Whether you’re a night owl or morning person is genetically determined. Around 30% of the population are considered morning types, 30% are evening types and the rest of us sit in the middle or are a combination of the two. Try to stick to your natural body clock as much as possible, as studies have shown your body starts to struggle when you go outside a 30-minute window of what feels natural. For example, if you struggle to wake up in the morning, a 6am or 6:30am alarm for someone who’s alarm goes off at 7am could be near on impossible. If you fight against your natural body clock on a regular basis, you could end up struggling with disease, sickness and ill health.
You May Be Better Off Being A Morning Lark
Both morning and night people operate along different circadian lines and there’s nothing you can do to change this – tough luck when work and school scheduling overwhelmingly favour early risers. Owls are often forced to burn the candle at both ends – which unfortunately puts them at greater risk of developing depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, heart attack and stroke in the long run.
You Can’t Catch Up On Sleep
Getting a few extra hours at the weekend only goes a little way to reversing chronic sleep debt. To re-pay your sleep debt completely, try to reintroduce a steady sleep routine and follow it for at least two weeks.
Forgetting Your Dreams is Okay
Dreaming is a kind of emotional first aid for the brain; it’s during dreaming that we provide ourselves a form of overnight therapy to deal with traumatic experiences. However it’s a myth that if you forget your dreams, you’ve had a bad night’s sleep. While we know that dream sleep (or Rapid Eye Movement [REM] sleep) is essential for life – studies have shown rats deprived of REM sleep can die almost as quickly as being deprived of food – being unable to remember your dreams upon waking doesn’t mean you haven’t dreamt, it just means when you wake up, your brain isn’t able to access this dream memory.
Find Your Sweet Spot
Matthew Walker’s advice for everyone – and an iron rule of his own life – is to aim for eight or nine hours of sleep every night. Routinely getting less than seven hours will undermine health, harm the brain, demolish the immune system, disrupts the body’s blood sugar balance and damage coronary arteries.