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Sleep Health 2020

Common myths about sleep

One in three people in the UK suffer from sleeplessness.1 How can this be improved? A good start is to address common misunderstandings.

A good night’s sleep is about more than feeling fresh, it is the bedrock of wellness. Good sleep is associated with better cardiac function2, blood sugar regulation3, lower obesity4 and it also contributes to good mental health.5

Healthy sleep can insulate us against all sorts of ailments. A study found that mortality rates from ischemic heart disease, cancer and stroke were lowest for individuals sleeping seven to eight hours a night. 6 Men sleeping six hours or fewer had nearly double the death rate than those getting the right amount of sleep.7 Studies of men under 65 found those who had three to five hours’ sleep a night had a 55% greater risk of dying of prostate cancer than men who slept for seven hours a night.7

Dreams are meaningless

It is generally agreed that dreaming is positive. The process helps to embed memories in the long term8 and, it is suggested, allows stressful experiences to be replayed, analysed and downgraded.8,9

If sleep is interrupted the memories remain associated with emotion. Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder experience high levels of the hormone noradrenaline, which blocks the ability to dream typically. As a result, the emotion associated with a memory remains vivid, long after the event.8,9

Late risers are lazy

Night owls are a real phenomenon, suggests science. They struggle to fall asleep early at night, even if they take all reasonable precautions. They also dislike waking early, complaining of drowsiness if forced to attend early-morning meetings. 10

There appears to be a strong genetic component to sleep types. Our knowledge of night owls has recently been enriched by data from the genetic testing service 23andMe and the UK Biobank, which researches the genes of people in the UK. 10

A good night’s sleep is more than merely about feeling fresh. It is the bedrock of wellness.

Using genome-wide data from nearly 700,000 participants, a study found hundreds of genes asso­ciated with chronotype – the type of sleeper you are.10

The question is whether schools should adapt to the needs of their teenage students, who seem to become night owls. A University of Washington experiment on students moved the start time of the school day from 7.50am to 8.45am. Sleep times rose by 34 minutes. The study also cited improved grades, and a reduction in lateness and absences.11

Sleep aids are all the same

The range of treatments can be confusing for consumers to cope with. Consumers may fear a sleep aid will lead to addiction or have side effects. Each category of sleep aid is different and should be considered independently. 12

Long-term insomnia patients may be prescribed a strong sedative.

But the treatment for acute insomnia, typically lasting between one to four weeks, is usually an over-the-counter treatment with fewer serious side effects and a lower risk of developing dependency. 12

Catching up on sleep makes up for lost sleep

In the chaos of modern living, it’s normal for bedtimes to be irregulated . Often, we say we’ll catch up on sleep later or at the weekend. However, sleep loss cannot simply be replaced later without a cost. 13,14

A recent study took two groups of people and limited their sleep to just five hours a night. One group was allowed to catch up on sleep at the weekend, the other group remained sleep restricted. Both groups snacked more, gained weight and showed signs of deteriorat­ing metabolic health. The catch-up sleep failed to compensate adequately.13,14

The lesson is clear. To guarantee the best health in body and mind, a good sleep routine should be established and maintained.

CTN code: UK/2020-0080

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/ | [2] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161202100943.htm | [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3869143/ | [4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632337/ | [5] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(17)30328-0/fulltext | [6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2845795 | [7] https://www.aacr.org/Newsroom/Pages/News-Release-Detail.aspx?ItemID=1035 | [8] Walker, M. Why we sleep. Great Britain: Penguin Books; 2018 | [9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768102/; Last accessed on 26/07/19 | [10] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-08259-7 | [11] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/12/676118782/sleepless-no-more-in-seattle-later-school-start-time-pays-off-for-teens | [12] Ali F., Defeating Sleep Deprivation, February 2019; OTC Medicines Casebook – Insomnia; Independent Community Pharmacist: page 32 |[13] https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdfExtended/S0960-9822(19)30098-3 | [14] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47400879 – All links last accessed on June 26, 2019

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