Ever since I was a kid I loved the idea of sleep learning: that you could put on headphones when you went to sleep and have conversational French when you woke up. I even tried it in college when, depressed by my mounting student loan debt, I decided I was going to go for a 4.0. All I got for my trouble was a few restless nights and a headache. Today, science can’t promise you passive language learning, but there may be some hope for the lazy learners among us. A new study published in Nature demonstrates a fascinating phenomenon: sleep conditioning, a la Pavlov. Here’s how it works.
Kids these days! I never thought I’d say those words, but here I am worried about how much time kids spend on the computer and watching television. Screens have infiltrated our homes and they’re not going anywhere soon. They’ve become a ubiquitous part of our work lives, social lives, and home lives. And kids are not immune. An increasing number of children have televisions, computers, cell phones, and tablets in their bedrooms. I’ve written before about how light from phones, computers, and televisions can affect sleep. The blue light from theses devices simulates daylight, confusing the brain into thinking its time to wake up. This is bad news if it’s time to go to bed. New research shows this type of light has an even more deleterious effect on children.
Ah, naps. There’s nothing more enjoyable than a mid-afternoon slumber when you’re feeling tired and run-down. I used to hate naps. They left me feeling groggy and out-of-touch, sapping my energy for the rest of the day. I was really suffering with mid-afternoon fatigue but I thought a nap would make it worse. I tried to wake up with coffee but it turns out pumping myself full of caffeine does more harm than good. I’d end up feeling jittery, sick to my stomach, and anxious. My mood suffered too. As 3 o’clock rolled around, I’d be snapping at co-workers and tearing up with irate customers. It was an unsustainable cycle. I decided to revisit napping one afternoon in the dead of winter. It was getting dark around 4 and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open for another second. So, I snuck out to my car, reclined the seat, and slept for about 25 minutes. I woke up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle the evening’s tasks. It was a real eye-opener. Literally. It turns out napping is really good for you. It helps with mood, alertness, memory, and overall health! Who knew? This is especially good news for retirees and new moms, two major napping demographics.
My husband snores. It isn’t a cute little snuffle here and there or an occasional bad night. He snores like a buzz saw and it’s constant. It starts about five minutes after he falls asleep and, since he always falls asleep before I do, I’m left to lay there awake silently hating him. I stuff earplugs in my ears and crank up the white noise on my headphones but nothing works. I can still hear the roaring snores through noise cancellers and decibel deadeners, and it keeps me awake all night long. So, as a consequence, my husband and I sleep in separate rooms. In our case, it’s been fine. We’re still intimate and we still spend a lot of time together. It’s sad to say goodnight to him and know I won’t get to snuggle up. It’s lonely always sleeping by myself. But the snoring is just too intense for anything else to work.
I live in New York and right now, the days are abysmally short. It starts getting dark around 4 PM, and that’s about when I start feeling blue. It’s hard to stay upbeat when the weather is so cold and so much of your life is spent under artificial lights. I can only imagine what it must be like in Alaska! Seasonal Affective Disorder runs rampant through the population during the northeast’s winter. In some people, it’s a mild feeling of dysphoria, just feeling down in the dumps. This is called sub-clinical SAD. In others, it’s a full-blown depression—the kind where you can’t get out of bed and can’t find pleasure in normal everyday activities. Severe SAD can be debilitating. Of course, like with most emotional disorders, sleep plays an important role—perhaps more than most in this case, since daylight is so closely linked to circadian rhythms. There’s a spring/summer version of SAD too, characterized by anxiety and restlessness, but we’ll be focusing on the winter variety here.
Romantic relationships are wonderful—without my husband, I’d be adrift, lonely, and decidedly unhappy—but that doesn’t mean marriage isn’t hard. I’m very proud of my relationship but that pride as much the result of hard work, compromising, and talking things out, as it is a result of the innate chemistry between the two of us. After ten years, I think the compromising and talking is even more important. And I’ve noticed, without fail, when one of us is sleep deprived, compromising and talking gets a whole lot harder. As much as we love each other, as committed as we are, we’ve had some truly difficult times. Almost all of them have involved a lack of sleep. As it happens, a new study has shows that relationship quality is directly affected by quality of sleep, and vice versa.
Insomnia is one of the most common ailments in adults. A full ten percent of the population suffers from it. Despite all of the sleeping pills on the market, that number isn’t going down. We live in an anxiety-driven, caffeine-fueled culture, and that’s just the beginning. Considering the economic situation in the United States over the past few years, people have a lot to worry about, and worrying and sleep don’t mix. For many of us, bedtime is the only time of day we really stop and think. It’s the first quiet moment we’ve had since we woke up, and our brains take full advantage. But at what price? The science is definitive: poor sleep means poor health and when you’re tired you aren’t at your best. Your job performance suffers, your relationships suffer, and your health slowly deteriorates. What’s really going on here?
Do you wake up with heartburn, a cricked neck, and a backache? Or maybe it’s more subtle: you wake up feeling tired, like you haven’t really slept. Surprising new research suggests your sleeping position may be to blame. Most people have a preferred position, a default that feels the most natural. But just because something feels natural doesn’t make it healthy. Here’s a run-down of the best and worst sleeping positions, and what you can do to make them more comfortable.
Human beings are built to respond to the natural light and dark cycle of the day. It makes sense that we would have evolved this way. After all, unlike cats, our eyes aren’t equipped to see very well in the dark. So, we had to do our hunting in the daytime and, the earlier we started looking for food, the more food we’d find before the day was over. As a consequence, our brains are more alert during daytime hours. As the sun sets, we start to slow down. Even if you consider yourself a night person, your productivity still wanes with the loss of daylight. Of course, nowadays we are surrounded by artificial light. It makes sense that this light might wreak some havoc on our sleep/wake patterns.