We spend a third of our lives sleeping, but we know very little about what happens to us at that decisive time for our physical and mental health. Popular culture is full of falsehoods and misinterpretations about the act of sleeping. Here are a few.
The dream is one of the most important activities for the human being, in spite of the bad popular languages that try that we have a wrong idea of its transcendence. Rest is vital for us to correctly develop our physical and psychological functions.
At first glance, it does not seem entirely intelligent that we spend a third of our life sleeping, but the truth is that without that minimum amount, literally, we could not live.
In fact, the University of Chicago carried out a study on the effects of not sleeping in mammals, specifically on total sleep deprivation in 10 rats. The results were devastating, since all the subjects died or were sacrificed for approaching an imminent death between the 11 and 32 days that the test lasted. For obvious reasons, this same experiment has not been done on humans.
However, other, less aggressive studies have shown that we could not live without sleep for more than approximately 11 or 15 days. From the third day without sleep, humans begin to suffer hallucinations and small episodes of temporary insanity. If sleeping problems become chronic, we would have a 40% greater chance of suffering from a psychiatric illness with adequate and regular rest.
Experts recommend sleeping between 7 and 9 hours a day, but this is a goal that very few people can reach. The different factors involved, such as the time zone and our frenetic pace of life, are leaving an important mark on our health.
Popular culture has misinterpreted the characteristics of sleep and its benefits. In this way, we have internalized behaviours and habits that are not favourable for our rest. In this gallery, we teach you a few myths about sleep.
1. Alcohol facilitates rest
This idea is deeply rooted, but has no basis cientíﬁca. It is true that when we have ingested alcohol we experience drowsiness, however, once we have fallen asleep, its quality worsens. The depth and restorative effect that occurs in normal rest are altered because the drink reduces the REM phase. In this period a total muscular relaxation is registered and dreams are presented, indispensable to reorganize our brain.
Alcohol also increases the likelihood of snoring and, therefore, apneas. These are some of the conclusions of a study carried out by Christian Nicholas and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne in Australia, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
If we drink – without abusing – the best thing to do is to have the last drink between an hour and a half and two hours before going to bed, so that the concentration of alcohol in the blood is low and we can fall into Morpheus’ arms.
2. While I sleep I can learn things
With sleep we lose our self-consciousness, but it is not signiﬁca that the brain remains inactive. In fact, it is working in fundamental tasks to procure us well-being. For example, in the rest period ﬁjan the knowledge that we have acquired during the waking period. That’s why I know aﬁrma that the best thing to do before taking an exam, in addition to studying, is to sleep the right number of hours.
However, it is not signiﬁca that the mind can assimilate new knowledge while sleeping, for example an English lesson played with MP3. This myth became popular in 1942 as a result of experiments by psychologist Lawrence LeShan to see if it was possible to eradicate the habit of biting the nails of a group of students. He divided the children into two separate rooms. The first group was given a phonograph at night that repeated the phrase “my finger nails taste bad”. The second group slept without this device.
After a few weeks, 40% of the children in the first group had given up the habit, while in the other group no one had surpassed it, which seemed to be conﬁrmar that the message had had an effect on the children’s unconscious. The problem with this and other similar tests was that it was never checked whether the volunteers were asleep or not while they were being bombarded with slogans. To rule out this factor, another experiment was carried out in 1956 at the University of Illinois (USA) in which the brain waves of the participants were monitored with an electroencephalogram and orders were only given when the members of the study rested. Word lists were reproduced, but none were able to remember a single word when they woke up. And it is that while we sleep the brain is already busy processing what we have learned during the day as to add new information.
3. The bed, the sport of the bums
Spending time resting at suﬁciente is the best way to be productive. Don’t do it negatively in the way you reason and feel, and it also increases the likelihood of suffering metabolic and endocrine problems. Rachael Taylor, a researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has found that children between the ages of three and five who sleep less than eleven hours a night are more likely to be overweight or obese when they turn seven.
Sleep déﬁcit also increases the chance of dementia, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Above all, the immune system can be affected, as indicated by a study in the journal Immunity conducted by cientíﬁcos of Yale University in the U.S. According to this research, early in the day we are more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, as if our defenses were being stretched: they depend on the biological clock and the cycles of light and darkness of the Earth, and when dawn are still asleep. Likewise, those who rest less than six hours a day are 12% more likely to die of premature death than those who do between six and eight hours, according to a study by the University of Warwick (United Kingdom), in collaboration with the University of Naples Federico II, in Italy.
4. The weekend I recover the lost sleep
Rolling between the sheets on Saturday and Sunday to compensate for the dynamics of late nights and early working days can have its advantages, such as reducing the risk of diabetes, as suggested by research conducted at the University of Chicago. However, it’s not a good way to balance all the sleep we’ve lost, which can lead to numerous health problems.
Doing mattress marathons on ﬁn a week isn’t good for the brain either, according to Josna Adusumilli of Harvard University. This researcher also maintains that sleeping six hours a day for twelve consecutive days produces physical and psychological effects similar to spending an entire night without sleeping. Among other things, motor precision decreases by 10%.
5. Snoring is annoying but not harmful
Snoring can turn into a nightmare. When they occur repeatedly, they represent an indicator ﬁable of the ailments that await us in the medium term. Therefore, they should be evaluated by a doctor. Snoring is a sign, for example, of sleep apnea – the pauses in breathing that some suffer during rest. Sometimes, those who suffer them wake up with a sensation of suffocation, but the most relevant thing from the medical point of view is that these interruptions reduce the levels of oxygen in the blood – the rhythm of the heart is altered and this one arrives with more diﬁcultad to the tissues of the body -, which has long term cardiovascular effects. It also increases the likelihood of accidents tráﬁco, because sleep is not repairing and the person gets up tired.
There is no magic solution to stop snoring, but there is a factor that seems to be determinant: obesity, as the accumulation of fat in the neck area and the laxity of the muscles of the abdomen diﬁcultan breathing.
6. With full moon I sleep worse
The word lunatic comes from the common belief that when we sleep under the moonlight we behave in an eccentric and unpredictable way. The inﬂuencia of the stars is also the engine of astrology and other divinatory pseudosciences. Is there any basis cientíﬁca for the belief that the Earth’s satellite modiﬁca our behavior or rest? A study in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics sheds light on the issue. cientíﬁco Jean-Philippe Chaput of the Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Canada studied the correlation between lunar phases and sleep. To do so, it analyzed the economic and sociocultural levels of 5,812 children from five continents, as well as a handful of factors such as age, sex, parental education, body mass index, time spent sleeping at night, day of measurement, degree of physical activity and also sedentary life.
After analyzing the data released during the three phases that were analyzed – full moon, half moon and crescent – Chaput concluded that, in general, the satellite did not inﬂuía in any of the variables that had been studied. The only correlation he found was that the duration of sleep was reduced by an average of five minutes during the new moon period, which means an alteration of only 1% of the night’s rest. According to the researcher, this minimum variation falls within the statistical error margin.
7. To the early bird, God helps
The circadian cycle is the name of the internal biological clock that controls our rhythms of sleep and wakefulness, and is synchronized with the light and dark phases of the Earth. Except for work reasons, most people work with this cycle: they work during the day and sleep at night. But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s biological rhythm is the same: some people work better in the morning and others at the end of the day. Depending on this characteristic, individuals are divided into owls, which stay up late and get up later; and larks, which go to bed early and early in the morning. Be careful: there are also people who are neutral. On the other hand, this clasiﬁcación changes a lot with age. Thus, the elderly tend to be more larks, and teenagers, nocturnal raptors.
In principle, to be one thing or another does not bring advantages signiﬁcativas, neither in the health. But according to a study by the Université Libre de Bruxelles in the journal Science, late-nighters can stay awake longer than early-nighters before giving in to mental fatigue. Why? One possible answer is that the area of the brain that regulates the biological clock coincides with that which governs attention, so if the circadian cycle asks for sleep, the area goes to sleep. That is to say, to the topic “to the early bird, God helps him” we should reply “not for much early bird, it dawns earlier”.
8. It’s okay to sleep with the TV on
There are people who iron their ears placidly while the television is running or even with the bedroom light on. However, regardless of our preferences, it is healthier to do it in the dark. If we do not observe this basic measure of sleep hygiene, our rest will not be as deep as the body requires. The biological clock is synchronized with the cycles of light and darkness, and the lighting artiﬁcial breaks that rhythm, which causes numerous disorders in the long run, some serious. For example, it can affect mood and is behind numerous outbreaks of depression.
According to a study by the University of Aberdeen, in the United Kingdom, even a light source as insigniﬁcante as the pilot who indicates the stand by of a television, can alter sleep. Cathy Wyse, author of the research, argues that nightlight, common in large cities, may be key to the growing obesity epidemic. The reason is that the alteration it produces in the biological clock affects the areas of the brain that regulate metabolism. To sleep well, it is necessary to leave the bedroom in the dark, and to avoid the use of computers, mobile phones and electronic books with backlighting a few hours before our appointment with Morpheus.
9. A nap is a waste of time
Nodding after eating is often associated with being lazy. However, it’s perfect for being more alert at work. That’s why companies like Google already have spaces where their employees can enjoy a half-day sleep. Depending on how long the nap lasts we will get some beneﬁcios or others. One of less than five minutes will help us fight drowsiness, but if we choose to rest ten or twenty will improve signiﬁcativamente concentration and blood pressure.
The best time to practice it is between two and three o’clock in the afternoon, the time of day when we usually suffer a drop in productivity. Your health will notice. Researcher Dimitrios Trichopoulos, of Harvard University, studied the lives of 20,000 people aged between 20 and 80 for six years to conclude that those who slept 30 minutes after a meal at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of death from heart disease.
10. The child who sleeps in class is a slacker
From the age of twelve, kids look like blankets, no one can get them out of bed. But it is not signiﬁca that they are lazy nor, if they have already turned fifteen or more years, that they have a dissolute life. They tend to stay up longer and prolong their sleep because they suffer a delay of about three hours in their circadian rhythms. Moreover, they should not be reproached: according to doctors, until the age of twenty one needs to sleep an average of between nine and ten hours because the brain, in full development, needs a lot of rest time.
Institutes and universities that have delayed the start time of classes to adjust to the biological clock of teenagers, such as a center in Minnesota and another in Kentucky, have seen improved grades signiﬁcativamente in various subjects. Sleeping on suﬁciente is so crucial for a student that, according to psychologist Amy Wolfson, those who get a remarkable or outstanding caliﬁcación go to bed about 40 minutes early and sleep about 25 minutes longer compared to students who perform less well.