Busting the myths about sleep

DR SHANE PASCOE, PSYCHOLOGIST & SLEEP EXPERT

Your path to a restful night awaits….

How did you sleep last night? Are you tired all the time? Does it take you a long time to get to sleep as your brain thinks about literally everything as your head hits the pillow?

For most sleep-deprived adults, the question is – how do the things we think about and the things we do, influence our sleep?

In a new book, Sleep Better, myself and researcher Professor Graham Law explore the myths surrounding the vexed issue of sleep – or lack of it. Here are the commonest myths and how to combat them for good night’s shut-eye.

Myth: I should have eight hours’ sleep every night

Truth: Sleep is as individual as you are

The World Health Organisation recognises the growing problem of poor sleep and recommends people get eight hours each night. However eight hours is not for everyone – you need what you need on a given night. Adding the stress of worry about having too much sleep or more likely not enough, doesn’t help. Take a more scientific approach: start writing down what you notice about your sleep, the amount, any disruptions, and the quality and work it out for yourself.

Myth 2: Routines are for babies

Truth: Structure does help

Activities that are a regular part of your day (like sleep) should be done at roughly the same time every day, including weekends. Exposure to light and when we eat meals for example, are important signals for our body to regulate itself effectively. Jet lag and shiftwork can make a significant impact on these processes.

Myth 3: I tried mindfulness once, and it did not help me to sleep

Truth: Try meditation more than once – it is better than sitting there doing nothing!

Relaxation techniques, yoga, and mindfulness meditation are all effective ways to sleep better. These techniques also provide another signal for your day, help reduce stress and make you to feel better.

Myth 4: My television helps me to sleep

Truth: Your bed is just for sleep and sex, not screens

You do not need a TV, your laptop or smartphone in bed. Exposure to screens that produce blue light disrupts your body clock by suppressing melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep which is produced more at night and turned off by the morning light. Don’t confuse your body and just use your bed for sleep and sex and not screens.  

Myth 5: There must be something wrong with me if I sleep more than my friends

Truth: You need to actively manage worry in bed

If you wake in the middle of the night and struggle to return to sleep with worry, change your routine. Take your attention, which you’re in control of, take it away from the worry. Let your mind accept this worry as normal for you right now, that it will pass, and that you have survived with limited sleep for a day before. This bad night’s sleep will help the chances of going to sleep the next night.

Myth 6: A psychologist will not help me to sleep

Truth: Poor sleep, anxiety, and depression often go together

If poor sleep has been a problem for you for more days than not over the past three months, then as a good rule of thumb, it’s likely you have an established sleep problem – see your General Practitioner.

Anxiety and depression also are both causes and are impacted by poor sleep. Ask for a referral to a psychologist at your GP visit if anxiety and or depression are a problem more days than not.

Myth 7: I’d be in trouble without my snooze button

Truth: The alarm clock has come a long way but is not the answer

Avoid the snooze button as that extra sleep may lead to a feeling of grogginess and make the problem of getting up that much harder. An alarm kickstarts the body in the morning and going back to sleep via a snooze button is working against these processes.

Some smartphone apps claim to measure your sleep pattern and use your preferred wake-up time to manage when you wake-up to prevent grogginess. Best to measure how this works for you and work out if you need to then carry on using a traditional alarm and getting up at the time it’s set.

________________________________________________________________________Sleep Better covers 40 myths of sleep. These myths form the basis for most sleep behaviours and are often the root cause of poor sleep. Newscastle-based Dr Pascoe has nearly 20 years’ experience helping adults with a variety of issues often involving sleep problems every day. With children aged 6, 5 and 2, sleep is the one area of Shane’s life that influences all others. 

Dr Shane Pascoe is the author of Sleep Better, which covers the 40 myths surrounding sleep. For more go to: www,pascoepsychology.com

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