A lot of people don’t think much about sleep. However, for Dr. Michael Scullin of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor University in Texas, it’s the opposite: His life’s work is about sleeping – rather, studying how people sleep – because it’s a field of study that doesn’t get much introspection.
In an article published in Newswise, he looked at common misconceptions about sleep and talked about the science behind each. (h/t to Baylor.edu)
- Dying in a dream does NOT mean that you’ll die in real life. “That’s just not substantiated because people report dying in their dreams, and they report it while they’re still alive,” Scullin explained of the matter. While nightmares can be a sign of a clinical problem, he adds that having a nightmare, in general, is the brain’s way of helping us prepare for a stressful situation.
- Snoring could have underlying causes. There is a correlation between snoring and sleep apnea, Scullin points out. While not all people with sleep apnea snore, it is the most significant risk factor for sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to complications like heart disease.
- Can’t fall asleep in 20 minutes? Try getting out of bed. When a person is lying in bed, but he can’t fall asleep, he’s developing a negative association between the bed and sleep. Get out of bed and do something boring without turning on the lights. After you feel sleepy, go back to bed.
- Pulling in an all-nighter then sleeping in is not doing you any favors. A neuroimaging study conducted on sleep deprivation revealed that it could severely diminish the normal function of the frontal lobe, which governs memory, decision making, and paying attention to detail.
- The moon has nothing to do with your sleep problems. A lot of media coverage was a few years ago claiming that a full moon affected sleep patterns. For the most part, people in the scientific community were already skeptical on the matter, and data from different laboratories found no association between the two.
- Yes, you can fall asleep at the wheel – even if you don’t realize it. There are many factors why people swerve on the road. However, aside from the usual suspects – texting, drinking, eating – Scullin believes that sleeping should be on the list. In particular, “micro-sleeps,” despite everyone’s best efforts to avoid them, are regular occurrences that people have no control over.
- It’s not the “night hag”, it’s just sleep paralysis. Being unable to move right after you wake up can be the worst feeling – so much so that different cultures have names for this phenomenon, mostly dark and sinister in nature. This is what’s called sleep paralysis, according to Scullin, and it’s when the brain hasn’t coordinated with its other parts. Usually, when we are in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain paralyzes the rest of the body to prevent a person from acting out his dream. The problem occurs when the parts of the brain responsible for consciousness wakes up, but the part that controls body paralysis is still active. This creates the feeling of being “fully awake but completely paralyzed.” There isn’t a clinical issue with sleep paralysis, he adds, and they can go away over time.
- Think your smartphone can measure your sleep? Think again. Sleep apps cannot track sleep quality or quantity, according to Scullin.
- Consume caffeine no later than six hours before bed. “Even if you have caffeine six hours before bed, you not only have more difficulty falling asleep, but your sleep was also less deep,” Scullin explained. He recommends having your daily caffeine fix in the morning.
There’s one approach that Scullin and his team propose to get you to sleep faster. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, they suggested writing a very specific to-do list, instead of journaling your entire day, can help a person sleep faster. (Related: Better sleep can help to drastically reduce chronic pain.)
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