There’s so much information out there on sleep that it can be hard to discern what’s right and wrong, and what might even be harmful. Researchers and psychologists, Dr Justine Evans and Kelly Brown from GMRF’s Veteran Sleep Therapy Study Team are keen to set the record straight on a few sleep myths and offer some advice on what you can do to get a good night’s rest.
“One of the great myths of sleep is that we need eight hours of sleep each night to maintain optimal functioning,” Research Officer/ Psychologist Kelly Brown says. “Truth is we don’t need eight hours. We each have a unique sweet spot for our optimal amount of sleep. On average, most people are sleeping seven hours a night, with a typical range of 6-8 hours. The research shows that between six and seven hours is sufficient for ensuring you’re performing well.”
The ‘restorative’ function of sleep is not determined by the number of hours you spend asleep, but rather by the time spent in certain stages of the sleep cycle, as Veteran Sleep Therapy Study Lead Dr Justine Evans explains.
“We cycle between different stages of sleep. We start in lighter stages of sleep, which many people confuse with still being awake, then we move to deeper stages. It is the stage known as “deep sleep” or “core sleep” that is most important for restoration, waking up feeling refreshed, and optimal functioning. This sleep generally occurs earlier in the night and on average we spend about 15 to 25% of the night in deep sleep,” Justine says.
Another myth that Justine and Kelly say can be harmful to good sleep is the idea of ‘catching up’ on sleep by staying in bed longer or napping during the day.
“People can get worried about sleep loss, and they might try to make up for lost sleep by going to bed earlier or staying in bed later the next day. The research shows that this doesn’t necessarily translate to good quality sleep,” Kelly says.
Justine adds, “If you sleep in or nap during the day it reduces internal sleep pressure, meaning you’re unlikely to fall asleep as quickly in the evening. Not napping is one of the goals for a lot of participants in our study. It is understandable to be tempted to nap, especially when we feel tired, but we know it is likely to impact on their sleep quality in the evening.”
There are a number of simple things people can be doing to improve their sleep quality. Justine and Kelly’s general advice includes:
- Having a set bedtime and wake up time. If you struggle with sleep, it’s best to keep this routine consistent both during the week and on the weekend
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake in the hours before going to bed. Learn more about how alcohol reduces your sleep quality
- Exercise in the morning to increase night time tiredness and avoid strenuous exercise in the hours before going to bed
- Try to avoid napping during the day
- Set up a relaxing, calm environment in your bedroom
“It is also worth considering that insomnia is one of a range of sleep disorders. Other disorders people may experience, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, can reduce the quality of their sleep by affecting their ability to get into the “deep” restorative stages of sleep.
“If you’re waking up not feeling refreshed, waking up with headaches, snoring or acting out in your sleep, these are signs that it could be worth talking to your GP and seeking a referral to a sleep specialist,” Justine says.
For information on what our Veteran Mental Health Initiative researchers are doing to address sleep issues for our veterans, CLICK HERE