Three questions that keep us awake at night

All the well-meant tips about the clocks going back and surviving the winter blues are enough to give anyone sleepless nights. There’s actually no right or wrong when it comes to sleep and health. However, studies on sleep do provide pointers on how to ensure your own personal well-being.

Text:Expert: Professor Johannes Mathis, neurologist and sleep specialist at the Inselspital university hospital in Bern; Photo: unsplash

SDoes the full moon disrupt sleep?

Some 40% of the population claim they sleep worse at full moon. Is it just their imagination? Opinions differ among sleep experts. Some researchers find there’s no link between phases of the moon and the quality of sleep, but others disagree.

For a long time, many scientists believed it was the brightness of the full moon that could be responsible for disturbing sleep. However, a research group in Basel made a strange discovery in 2013: Having carefully analysed the data measured for people sleeping, they found that their internal clock appeared to respond to the cycle of the moon, even though the subjects were sleeping in fully darkened rooms in the sleep laboratory. At full moon, activity in the areas of the brain associated with deep sleep fell by 30%. In addition, it took the study participants five minutes longer to fall asleep at full moon, and they slept for 20 minutes less.

Research indicates that in addition to the daily circadian rhythm, people may well be influenced by a lunar cycle.

If you don’t sleep well, you should go to bed earlier. Is this true?

This commonly heard advice is incorrect. You should do the opposite and only go to bed when you’re tired. The more you need to sleep, the faster you’ll nod off. The aim is to sleep less but more efficiently, i.e. increase the percentage of your time in bed spent asleep. If you go to bed earlier when you’re having problems sleeping, you’ll only make it worse. You hope it’ll help you relax, but you’ll probably end up spending more time awake in bed tossing and turning, which makes it even more difficult to fall asleep

The aim is to sleep less but more efficiently, i.e. increase the percentage of your time in bed spent asleep. If you go to bed earlier when you’re having problems sleeping, you’ll only make it worse.

Is sleep before midnight the most beneficial?

This claim may apply to early birds who hit the hay early in the evening so they can get up first thing the next morning, but strictly speaking it isn’t true. So, night people – known as “owls” by sleep researchers – who rarely get to sleep before midnight don’t need to worry about their health or productivity. Everyone enters an intermittent phase of particularly beneficial deep sleep within two to four hours of dropping off. It doesn’t matter whether this deep sleep takes place before or after midnight.