Five myths about sleep

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

1. Better sleep is primarily about feeling alert

A good night’s sleep is more than merely about feeling fresh. It is the bedrock of wellness. Good sleep is associated with better cardiac function,2 blood sugar regulation,3 lower obesity4 and contributes to good mental health.5

Good sleep can insulate us against all sorts of ailments. A long-term study of approximately 7,000 adults found that mortality rates from ischemic heart disease, cancer, stroke and all causes combined were lowest for individuals sleeping the recommended seven to eight hours a night. Men sleeping 6 hours or less had 1.7 times the total age-adjusted death rate than those getting the right amount of sleep.6 Certain disorders are particularly notable. Two long-term studies of men under the age of 65, found those who had three to five hours’ sleep a night had a 55 per cent greater risk of dying of prostate cancer than men who slept for seven hours a night.7

Neuroscientist Matthew Walker says: “We are now forced to wonder whether there are any biological functions that do not benefit from a good night’s sleep.”8

2. Dreams are meaningless

The language of dreams is hotly debated. The Freudian school of psychoanalysis maintains that our sleeping visions are insights into deeply held desires.9 This is contested, but what is more readily agreed is the positive impact of dreaming. The process helps to embed memories in the long term.10 And there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that dreaming allows stressful experiences to be replayed, analysed and downgraded.

If sleep is interrupted the memories remain associated with emotion. For example, patients with post-traumatic stress disorder experience high levels of the hormone noradrenaline. This blocks the ability of patients to enter the normal dream phase of sleep. As a result, the emotion associated with a memory remains vivid, long after the event. The patient is unable to forget the trauma.8,10

A therapy programme for war veterans using a drug to suppress noradrenaline found the dosage improved sleep and therefore recovery.11 One patient reported: “Doc, it’s the strangest thing, my dreams don’t have those flashback nightmares anymore. I feel better, less scared to fall asleep at night.”8

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

3. Late risers are lazy

In fact, night owls are a real phenomenon, supported by science. They struggle to fall asleep early at night, even if they take all reasonable precautions. And they dislike waking early, complaining of drowsiness if forced to attend early-morning meetings.

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. Using genome-wide data from 697,828 participants, a study found hundreds of genes associated with chronotype -  the type the sleeper you are.12

There is also the question of teenagers, who seem to become night owls. The question is whether schools should adapt to the needs of their students. 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.13

4. Sleep aids are addictive

The range of treatments can be confusing for consumers to cope with. At worst, consumers may fear a sleep aid will lead to addiction or come with side effects. So what is the truth? In fact, each category of sleep aid is different and should be considered independently.

Long-term insomnia patients may be prescribed a strong sedative, such as benzodiazepines. In this case there is a well-known risk of physical and psychological dependence. But the treatment for acute insomnia, typically lasting between one to four weeks, is usually a mild, over-the-counter treatment, such as an antihistamine like diphenhydramine.14 One example is Nytol One-A-Night, a medicine that contains diphenhydramine hydrochloride and used for the relief of temporary sleep disturbance.

Pharmacist Farah Ali says: “Because over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids can be effective in helping patients achieve better sleep, they are often thought to have the same negative effects associated with prescription sedatives. Like prescription sedatives, OTC sleep aids can have some mild, short-term side effects, such as the risk of daytime drowsiness, but they have fewer serious side effects and a lower risk of developing dependency.”

Other mild treatments for temporary sleep issues that last for one or two nights over a period of time and for less than four weeks, include hops and valerian-based remedies.14 An example is Nytol Herbal Simply Sleep One-A-Night Tablets that contain valerian root extract. Available literature indicates valerian root to be safe to use.15 In this category, consumers can use such treatments, in line with guidelines, with confidence.

5. It’s OK to catch up on sleep

In the chaos of modern living, it’s normal for bedtimes to be chaotic. Often, we say we’ll catch up on sleep later or at the weekend. But can sleep be replaced at a later date? In fact, sleep loss cannot simply be replaced later without a cost.

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.16,17

“In the end, we didn’t see any benefit in any metabolic outcome in the people who got to sleep in on the weekend,” says study author Chris Depner, assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.17

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

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Essential information

Nytol Herbal Simply Sleep One-A-Night tablets contain Valerian root extract. A traditional herbal medicinal product for use in the temporary relief of sleep disturbances exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy. Always read the leaflet. 
Nytol One-A-Night Tablets contain diphenhydramine. An aid to the relief of temporary sleep disturbance. Always read the leaflet.









8 Walker, M. Why we sleep. Great Britain: Penguin Books; 2018


10; Last accessed on 26/07/19




14 Ali F., Defeating Sleep Deprivation, February 2019; OTC Medicines Casebook – Insomnia; Independent Community Pharmacist: page 32




All links last accessed on June 26, 2019