Trying to make sense of your dreams? What helps you fall asleep better than a sleeping pill? Here are some facts on the science of sleeping and dreaming, according to the book Dreamland, by David Randall:
- We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, and the quality of our sleep determines how happy we are. In fact, a study from the University of Pittsburgh shows that people who sleep poorly tend to give negative ratings to their marriage, while those who sleep well tend to give positive ratings. That explains why a growing number of happily married couples sleep in separate beds today.
- Many of our dreams could easily be mistaken for nightmares.That's because dreams are our brain's way of processing the anxieties we have about everyday life. In fact, scientists describe dreams as "mental dress rehearsals" for practicing worst-case scenarios. The thinking is that if our brain can learn to handle stressful situations while we're asleep, then we'll have a head start dealing with stress when we're awake.
- Most sleeping pills are a waste of money.That's because sleep drugs tend to impact our memory - not the quality of our sleep. In fact, a study found that many people who took a sleeping pill still tossed and turned at night. But when they woke up the next day, they thought they had a full night's sleep, because the pill caused them to have no memory of being awake!
- Long-term sleep problems are bad for our brain. In fact, a new UCLA study shows that the area of the brain that stores memory is 15% smaller in people who have sleep apnea, compared to people who get 8-hours of sleep a night. And seniors with sleep apnea are twice as likely to develop dementia.
That's why the author of Dreamland, David Randall, offers this trick for getting a better night's sleep: Take a hot shower before bedtime because research shows that the key to falling asleep is a falling body temperature.
Meaning if you warm up with an evening workout - or a hot shower - it'll raise your body temperature, then cools you down faster than normal after you finish, which can stimulate your sleep hormones. But, with the shower or the workout, don't do it any closer than 2 hours before bed. It'll take that long for your sleep hormones to kick in.