Sept 26: five hours 14 minutes

Now forgive me, Harvard Medical Review. I know you think I might be picking on you – and that this advice is given out everywhere from GP’s surgeries to Sleep Books – but the email that popped up in my inbox this morning has really annoyed me. (Below, edited for length):

The Harvard Review writes: General ways to improve sleep

Many things can interfere with sleep, ranging from anxiety to an unusual work schedule. People who have difficulty sleeping often discover that their daily routine holds the key to nighttime woes.

First-line strategies
Before we examine specific sleep problems, it makes sense to address some common enemies of sleep and tips for dealing with them.

Cut down on caffeine
Caffeine drinkers may find it difficult to fall asleep. Once they drift off, their sleep is shorter and lighter. For some people, a single cup of coffee in the morning means a sleepless night. Caffeine can also interrupt sleep by increasing the need to urinate.

Those who can’t or don’t want to give up caffeine should avoid it after 2 p.m., or noon if they are especially caffeine-sensitive.

Stop smoking or chewing tobacco
Nicotine is a central nervous system stimulant that can cause insomnia. This potent drug makes it harder to fall asleep because it speeds your heart rate, raises blood pressure, and stimulates fast brain-wave activity that indicates wakefulness. If you continue to use tobacco, avoid smoking or chewing it for at least one to two hours before bedtime. EDITOR’S NOTE: CHEWING IT?!?

Use alcohol cautiously
Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap can help some people fall asleep. However, the quality of this sleep is abnormal. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, and its soporific effects disappear after a few hours. Drinkers have frequent awakenings and sometimes frightening dreams.

Be physically active
Regular aerobic exercise like walking, running, or swimming provides three important sleep benefits: you fall asleep faster, attain a higher percentage of deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.

Stick to a regular schedule
A regular sleep schedule keeps the circadian sleep/wake cycle synchronized. People with the most regular sleep habits report the fewest problems with insomnia and the least depression. Experts advise getting up at about the same time every day, even after a late-night party or fitful sleep. Napping during the day can also make it harder to get to sleep at night.

If your goal is to sleep longer at night, napping during the day is a bad idea.

For more on the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and developing strategies to improve your sleep, buy Improving Sleep: A guide to a good night’s rest, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. (REPORT ENDS).

Now, come on. Do you have to be an Ivy League academic to work out that caffeine keeps you awake, booze messes up your sleep, exercise helps you to drop off and keep you dropped off, and that daytime naps might affect a night-time’s rest? Ok, admittedly, I didn’t know about the smoking one – I have never smoked – but still.

Maybe I’m feeling especially grumpy today, but when I had my terrible nine-year period of insomnia, I wanted to murder people who gently offered that I might want to cut out double espressos after six pm (I didn’t drink coffee at all), or perhaps take a long walk when I was so exhausted and deranged, I couldn’t even go out of the front door.

Admittedly, ‘sleep hygiene’ is the first step in the longer and more comprehensive treatment plan of CBTi (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia). I have a lot of time for CBTi, to which I will returning at some point in the near future.

But as the sum total of a health practitioner’s advice, to a hard-bitten insomniac of several years’ campaigns? Please.

What does everybody else think?

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