TIME psychology

Get Better Sleep: 5 Powerful New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever have trouble getting to sleep? Or staying asleep? Or you get plenty of shut-eye but you’re not refreshed? Everyone wants to get better sleep. But sleep trouble is incredibly common.

And feeling tired the next day isn’t the half of it. By not getting enough sleep you’re reducing your IQ.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

And losing “beauty sleep” really does make you less attractive. Seriously.

Want to be miserable? Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy.

Via NurtureShock:

The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

And if that’s not enough, lack of sleep could contribute to an early death.

Via Night School:

The results, published in 2007, revealed that participants who obtained two hours less sleep a night than they required nearly doubled their risk of death.

We need answers before sundown. So I figured I’d call somebody who has them.

Richard Wiseman is professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and the bestselling author of many books including: Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep.

On his YouTube channel he has a number of great videos including this one on sleep tips.

Richard is going to tell you the #1 mistake you make when it comes to sleep, how to take awesome naps, how to get more quality sleep and the surprising secret to why you wake up in the middle of the night. And much more.

If you’re not too tired to keep reading, let’s get to it…

 

The #1 Mistake That’s Screwing Up Your Sleep

If you’re already exhausted, here’s the main takeaway you need from this interview:

Your smartphone is the devil. Your iPad is Lucifer. Your TV cackles with glee when you have insomnia.

They all give off blue light that your brain mistakes for sunshine. And that tells your grey blob it’s time to wake up, not go to bed.

Stay away from them during the hour before you try to nod off. Here’s Richard:

Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour long walk in bright daylight. Imagine going for an hour long walk in bright daylight and then thinking, “Now I’ll get some sleep.” It ain’t going to happen. In the middle of the night you wake up and think, “Aw, I’ll just check Twitter, email or Facebook,” and, of course, you’re being flooded with that blue light. You’re not going to be getting back to sleep very easily for the next hour or so.

So your smartphone is the devil? Okay, not really. In fact, sometimes it can be the best friend your sleep schedule has. Huh?

When you’re dealing with jet lag, I encourage you to indulge in all the blue light device bliss you so urgently crave.

They can help shift your circadian rhythm forward. Awesome, right? Your phone has a new feature you didn’t even know about. Here’s Richard:

You can use that blue light to your advantage, because when you’re bathed in blue light you become more alert. To get your circadian rhythm where it needs to be in the new time zone you can stimulate yourself with the blue light from smartphones and iPads.

(To learn the 4 things astronauts can teach you about a good night’s sleep, click here.)

Okay, modern technology is a double-edged sword. What else are you doing wrong?

 

A Good Nightly Routine Is Key

Just like a good morning routine is incredibly powerful, one before bed is a game changer as well. First step?

No booze. It seems like it helps but it’s actually a big no-no. Here’s Richard:

Drinking alcohol an hour or two before you go to bed is not a good idea. You’ll fall asleep quicker, but it keeps you out of deep sleep. In the morning you wake up feeling pretty terrible.

Richard says thinking positive thoughts before you go to bed is helpful and can promote good dreams. One of the biggest things that causes insomnia is thatanxiety about getting to bed.

When those awful thoughts start running through your head at night, try this little game. Here’s Richard:

Just think about a country or a vegetable or a fruit for each letter of the alphabet. You just slowly work your way through and that can take your mind off negative thoughts.

Worrying keeping you awake? Richard says to keep a pad and pen by the bed and write those thoughts down to dismiss them. Mindfulness training can help with this too so give meditation a try. (Here’s how.)

Still can’t sleep? Get up. Don’t accidentally make a Pavlov-style association between your bed and *not* sleeping. Here’s Richard:

The issue is often they’re staying in bed awake for ten minutes or more and they start to associate bed with being awake instead of being asleep. Get up, do something which is not stimulating, and then get back to bed.

(For more science-backed tips on a nightly routine that will bring you amazing sleep, click here.)

So your winding down ritual is in order. What about naps? (Yes, I know they’re amazing.) How can you and I make them *more* amazing?

 

How To Nap Like A Pro

Don’t go down for more than an hour. 20-30 minutes is great — but even five minutes can give you a big boost. Here’s Richard:

Anything over an hour is probably not a great idea, but twenty or thirty minutes of napping is incredibly good for creativity and focus. Naps can make a massive, massive difference. Even five minutes increases reaction time and focus.

NASA found pilots who take a 25 minute nap are 35% more alert and twice as focused.

Via Night School:

Research by NASA revealed that pilots who take a twenty-five-minute nap in the cockpit – hopefully with a co-pilot taking over the controls – are subsequently 35 per cent more alert, and twice as focused, than their non-napping colleagues.

NASA found that naps made you smarter — even in the absence of a good night’s sleep.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance, even when the nap didn’t lead to an increase in alertness or the ability to pay more attention to a boring task.

Worried you won’t wake up in time for something important? Richard recommends drinking a cup of coffee immediately before laying down. The caffeine will kick in after about 25 minutes.

(To learn the 5 scientific secrets to naps that will make you smarter and happier, click here.)

All this is great for getting some sleep… but what about when you can’t stay asleep? Not a problem. Literally.

 

Waking Up In The Middle Of The Night Is Natural

Research shows we evolved to sleep in two distinct phases. So don’t worry. Do something for a little while and then head back to bed for round 2. Here’s Richard:

We’ve evolved to have what’s called segregated sleeping. If you wake up in the middle of the night that’s perfectly natural. Before electric light people would talk about “first sleep” and “second sleep.” In between they’d go and visit their friends or play games. So if you do wake up in the middle of the night, that’s fine. Get out of bed for twenty minutes and do something. Don’t lay there feeling anxious.

Is this fragmented sleep bad? Far from it. Bloodwork showed that the time between the two sleeping periods was incredibly relaxing and blissful.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

The results showed that the hour humans once spent awake in the middle of the night was probably the most relaxing block of time in their lives. Chemically, the body was in a state equivalent to what you might feel after spending a day at a spa…

(For more on the science of why we sleep in two chunks, click here.)

But here’s a problem everyone has had: ever sleep for over eight hours and you still feel groggy and awful? Here’s why.

 

Want To Get Better Sleep? Remember “The 90 Minute Rule”

Your body goes through sleep cycles of 90 minutes. Wake up in the middle of one and you’ll feel lousy no matter how long you’ve been in bed. So plan your sleep schedule in increments of an hour and a half. Here’s Richard:

Sleep scientists all use the “90-minute rule” which is basically a sleep cycle which is moving from light sleep, to deep sleep to dreaming and repeating that again and again. That cycle is roughly ninety minutes. You’re best off waking up at the end of a cycle. Plan your sleep in ninety minute blocks to tell you the best time to be falling asleep. Then you go to bed about ten, twelve minutes before that because that’s how long it should be taking you to fall asleep.

(For more on how to have the best night’s sleep of your life, click here.)

I could use a nap now, frankly. But before any of us nod off, let’s round up what Richard had to say so tonight is a restful one. (And we’ll get one more tip that can help make sure your nighttime habits don’t backfire.)

 

Sum Up

Here’s what Richard had to say about getting more quality zzzzzzzz’s:

  • Avoid smartphones and devices at night. But they’re great when you’re dealing with jet lag.
  • A good nightly routine is key. No alcohol before bed, think positive thoughts and play the alphabet game.
  • Naps are awesome. Just keep them under 30 minutes. Drink a cup of coffee before you lay down.
  • Sleeping in two chunks is natural. Get up and do something for a little while and then go back to bed.
  • Remember the “90 minute rule.” Think about when you need to be up and count back in increments of 90 minutes so you wake up sharp.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We stay up surfing the net or watching Netflix. How can we behave better?

John Durant offers a piece of advice I follow: forget the morning alarm clock; set an alarm to remind you when to go to bed.

Via The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health:

A useful technique is setting an alarm clock—not to wake up, but to get ready for bed. Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, finish up any work on the computer, turn off the TV, turn off any unnecessary lights, and start to wind down for the day.

I wish you great sleep and blissful dreams.

And as Anthony Burgess once said:

Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

5 Scientific Secrets To Naps That Will Make You Happier And Smarter

4 Things Astronauts Can Teach You About A Good Night’s Sleep

These Six Things Will Bring You A Great Night’s Sleep

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MONEY financial problems

This Worry Keeps 62% of Americans Up at Night

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Concerns about money are leaving a majority of Americans sleepless.

Most Americans are losing sleep over a financial concern, according to a new report.

A survey conducted by CreditCards.com found 62% of respondents said they were being kept awake by at least one financial problem. That number is lower than during the tail end of the recession in 2009, when 69% of Americans said they were losing sleep over their finances, but still worse than the beginning of the financial crisis in 2007 when the proportion of those kept awake stood at 56%.

Among those who are losing sleep, the most common fear is not saving enough for retirement. About 40% of Americans report they sometimes stay awake worrying about their retirement savings, and as many as half of respondents between age 50 and 64 say this concern keeps them up at night.

The second largest worry is educational expenses, which keeps 31% of the population—and 50% of 18-­ to 29-year­-olds—from slumber, followed by 29% of Americans who stay restless over medical bills.

Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, said the results highlight how record levels of student debt have taken a toll on students and recent graduates. “It kind of confirms a lot of what we’ve seen,” said Schulz. “The education costs are the only financial fear that has continuously grown in all of the times we’ve done this survey.”

He also offered suggestions for how people stressed out by their finances can finally get some shuteye. “People lose sleep when things seem out of their control, and a lot of folks with student debt feel like it’s out of their control,” the analyst noted. “It’s important that people who are losing sleep and feel out of control take some sort action, whether they’re making a budget, or getting a side job—doing something that can help them get a little control over their financial issue. It may not solve their financial problems, but it might help them sleep better at night because they feel like they’re doing something about it.”

He also pointed out that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans making over $75,000 per year were less likely to lose sleep than those with lower incomes. “They say that money can’t buy you love or happiness but our survey shows it might be able to buy you a better night’s sleep,” Schulz added.

 

TIME medicine

Scientists Find a Gene That Regulates Sleep

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It's a study in flies but it could have implications for us, too

Flies, it turns out, sleep about as much as young children do. Males need about 12 hours a day, while females can do with about 10 hours. To find out which genes might be responsible for guiding how much slumber flies get a night, Kyunghee Koh did a massive experiment that you can only do with fruit flies.

She and her team at Thomas Jefferson University reported in the journal Current Biology that they took 3,000 flies, introduced random mutations in them and then monitored how well they slept. That allowed them to zero in on the genes that most directly affected slumber, and they found one, taranis, that may become an important target for sleep-related research even in people.

Flies with abnormal forms of taranis only get about 25% of their daily sleep; removing the gene keeps the flies buzzing almost non stop.

Koh’s team found that taranis works with a couple of other proteins to balance sleeping and waking. Normally, taranis and cyclin A pair up to keep the activity of another enzyme down. That enzyme generally keeps the flies awake. So when all three are working in concert, taranis and cyclin A shut down the enzyme so flies can get 10 to 12 hours of sleep. But when taranis is mutated, it doesn’t do its job as well, and the enzyme keeps the flies alert and unable to sleep.

It turns out that taranis has a related gene in mammals that may work in similar ways. The gene typically controls the way cells divide, “We don’t know yet whether these genes have a role in sleep in mammals or humans, but our hope is that somehow these genes we find in flies may have similar roles in people, and might ultimately give us some novel drug targets to help us sleep better,” says Koh.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

You Asked: Is It Better to Sleep In Or Work Out?

Peter Oumanski for TIME

Sleep and exercise are both vital. But if you can’t seem to fit in both, you can sometimes substitute a little of one for a little of the other.

When it comes to your health, there are few absolutes. But that’s not the case with sleep and exercise. You need both, period.

“I couldn’t choose between the two,” says Edward Laskowski, MD, a resident and professor of physical medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Sleep and exercise are like food and water.”

Not only are both necessary, but it’s difficult to get healthy doses of one without the other. “When you look at the research, regular physical activity is important for high-quality sleep, and high-quality sleep is important for physical performance,” says Cheri Mah, a sleep medicine researcher at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco.

But when pressed to choose one that’s more important, Mah grudgingly decides on sleep. “Sleep is foundational,” she says. While specific needs vary from person to person, she says most of the scientific literature suggests adults need a minimum of seven hours of good sleep every night. “Lots of individuals think they can operate on less, but when you test them, you find they’re not performing at their best,” Mah says. “They get used to feeling tired, and they think that’s the norm.”

Sleep is the base on which a healthy mind and body stand, she explains. From your immune function to your mood, energy, appetite and dozens of other health variables, if that base is wobbly, your health will suffer.

But let’s assume you’re getting your seven-plus hours every night. Can you sacrifice some zzzs a few times a week in order to fit in regular exercise? Yes, but with caveats, says Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University.

Regularity is very important for sound, restorative sleep. Mess around too much with your sleep and wake schedule, and all of your body’s circadian rhythms can be thrown out of whack. Not only will you feel sleepy at odd hours, but you may also struggle to fall asleep at night, and your appetite and energy will fluctuate in unhealthy ways, Zee says.

Say you typically go to bed around 11:00 p.m. and rise at seven. Zee says the midpoint of your night would land near 3 a.m. As long as you’re maintaining your seven-to-eight-hour average and that midpoint lands between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., Zee says you’re fine skipping a half hour of sleep a few days a week in favor of a morning run or gym visit.

Not fine: Rising two hours early to attend a morning yoga class or to fit in a lengthy bike ride.

“Even on weekends, you want to keep that regularity of when you go to bed and when you get up,” Zee stresses. Your body doesn’t understand what a weekend is, so it doesn’t react well if you stick to one schedule during the workweek and adopt a radically different schedule on Saturdays and Sundays. The same goes for your workout days.

But if you’re falling short of your seven hours a night, Zee, Mah and Laskowski all say the same thing: It’s time to reorganize your schedule in a way that makes room for both adequate sleep and regular exercise.

There may be some exceptions for people with insomnia or those who can’t seem to sleep at night. For them, rising at the same time each day and incorporating regular exercise might help alleviate sleep woes, even if it means sacrificing a little sack time in the short term.

But for the rest of us, making time for sleep and exercise can come down to cutting out activities that aren’t as important.

“Almost everyone could forgo 30 minutes a day of internet or TV time,” Mah says. Both the CDC and American Heart Association recommend a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. Along with your seven-plus hours of sleep, those are you bare-minimum goals when it comes to healthy rest and physical activity.

“There are so many unique benefits that each have, it’s hard to pull them apart,” Laskowski says. “The real danger is when you only make adequate time for one of them.”

TIME Healthcare

5 Sleep Problems Nobody Talks About

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From teeth grinding to jittery legs

You drift off at night like a newborn baby, yet can’t recall the last time you woke up truly refreshed. It may not seem that weird: “People tend to assume that because our modern lives are so hectic, nobody feels rested,” says Meir Kryger, MD, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. But the reality is, you might have a sleep disorder and not even know it. There are a handful of problems that can cheat you out of quality slumber, leaving you more tired in the morning than you were when you went to bed. Find out what could be going on between your sheets and how to catch more restorative z’s, starting tonight.

Sleep Problem No. 1: You snore like a saw

Those snuffle-snorts mean that your slack tongue and throat muscles are narrowing your airway, possibly due to the shape of your soft palate or any extra weight you’re carrying.

Although you’re likely to wake up if you get short of breath, it may not be for long enough to remember. Some people wake dozens or even hundreds of times a night—a disorder known as sleep apnea that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and possibly osteoporosis, according to a new study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. “Those repeated awakenings are as disruptive as someone pinching you every two minutes all night long,” says Safwan Badr, MD, chief of the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

Sleep aid: If you rarely wake up feeling bright-eyed, see a specialist to get checked for sleep apnea.(Three to 9 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 70 suffer from it.) If you have the condition, a CPAP machine and mask can help by keeping your pharynx open with a steady stream of air.

To quiet your snore, avoid rolling onto your back—a position that makes your airway more likely to collapse. Rachel Salas, MD, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggests this little trick: Sew a tennis ball into the pocket of a sweatshirt and wear it backward to bed.

Sleep Problem No. 2: You grind your teeth

Do you wake up with a sore jaw or get chronic headaches? If so, you may be gnashing your ivories overnight. All that clenching can cause enough pain to interfere with your shut-eye (not to mention wear down your enamel). Experts believe that teeth grinding, which about 16 percent of us do, is associated with anxiety—though an abnormal bite and antidepressants can also play a role.

Sleep aid: A dentist will fit you with a mouth guard. If you’re clamping down because you’re overwhelmed and overloaded, find a healthier way to manage stress, urges Michael A. Grandner, PhD, an instructor in psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s also crucial to spend plenty of time winding down before bed so you drift off in a calm, relaxed state,” he adds.

Sleep Problem No. 3: Your body clock is off

Not even drowsy until the wee hours? Delayed sleep-phase syndrome (DSPS) is the technical term for this disorder, which afflicts 10 percent of people who seek help for insomnia. It involves a biological glitch that prevents your body from making melatonin (the sleep hormone) until 12 a.m. or later. A prime sign you’ve got DSPS: You’ve been a night owl since high school. The syndrome is common among teenagers and sometimes persists into adulthood. If you’re not squeezing in at least seven hours of z’s a night, you’re at greater risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. What’s more, a recent study published in Cognitive Therapy and Research found that people who nod off late (and get less sleep as a result) tend to experience more negative thoughts.

Sleep aid: Begin by improving your sleep hygiene. Cut back on caffeine. Avoid tech and television starting 90 minutes before bedtime. Create a soothing wind-down routine. And get some sun first thing in the morning to help reset your body’s 24-hour rhythm. “In 80 percent of cases, these strategies lead people to conk out earlier,” Dr. Badr says. If they don’t do the trick, a specialist may prescribe synthetic melatonin, as well as light therapy with a medical lamp to use in the morning.

Sleep Problem No. 4: Your legs feel jittery at night

That creepy-crawly feeling—aptly called Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)—troubles as many as 1 in 10 people and is thought to be linked to a dysfunction in the way the brain processes the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, in some cases it suggests a nutritional deficiency, Dr. Kryger notes: “With people who have low iron, there seems to be overactivity in parts of the brain that results in an urge to move the legs.”

Sleep aid: Ice packs, warm packs, massages, a bath—any of these remedies might help, says David N. Neubauer, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: “Different things seem to work for different people.”

Also, talk to a sleep doc about trying an RLS drug. Be sure to mention your current prescriptions because some meds (including certain antidepressants) reduce dopamine activity. Get your iron levels checked, too, Dr. Gardner advises: “Sometimes a supplement is the only treatment necessary.”

Sleep Problem No. 5: You sleepwalk—and even sleep eat

For reasons that aren’t completely understood, somnambulists are partially aroused in the night—often from the deepest stage of slumber (called slow-wave)—and proceed to wander around the house. The behavior, which may affect up to 4 percent of the population, appears to run in families and is more likely to occur with sleep deprivation. Another trigger: taking zolpidem (one of the most popular sedatives), according to Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, author of Sleep Soundly Every Night; Feel Fantastic Every Day.

Additionally, 1 to 3 percent of people who experience such a zombie-like state actually raid the kitchen. Called sleep-related eating disorder, this condition often strikes women on a diet, who go to bed hungry.

Sleep aid: Benzodiazepines (aka tranquilizers) can sometimes help, and so does getting more sleep. As long as your nocturnal adventures don’t involve anything risky (like, for example, baking cookies), you may not need medication, Rosenberg says: “Just make sure you safety-proof your home by clearing out clutter and stowing away sharp objects.” If you’re a nighttime roamer, let your partner know that the ideal approach is to gently lead you back to bed.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

TIME medicine

Go to Sleep: It May Be the Best Way to Avoid Getting Alzheimer’s

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Poor sleep may be contributing to the buildup of the brain plaques that drive the disease

Doctors studying Alzheimer’s disease have known for a while now that their patients are poor sleepers. But does the disease result in disrupted sleep, or do unhealthy sleep habits contribute to the disease?

Reporting in Nature Neuroscience, researchers led by Matthew Walker at the University of California, Berkeley, describe for the first time a unique pattern of sleep brain waves that seems to be linked to a higher risk of building up the brain proteins that can lead to impaired memory.

When the team studied 26 cognitively normal older adults, they found that higher amounts of amyloid, the protein responsible for the hallmark plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease, were linked with more disrupted deep sleep patterns. More importantly, the higher amount of amyloid and the disturbed sleep were also associated with worse performance on simple paired-word memory tests, which the researchers gave the volunteers both before and after a night’s sleep.

MORE: Many Doctors Don’t Tell Patients They Have Alzheimer’s

“It wasn’t just all of deep sleep that was disrupted but a very specific electrical signature deficit that we found,” says Walker. “It’s very particular and very unique, so my hope is that it’s so specific that it may really offer quite a high degree of sensitivity and specificity for the changes we see associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

He stresses that in the current study, all of the volunteers were cognitively normal, and that the researchers did not follow them to determine if they eventually developed mild cognitive impairment—which often precedes Alzheimer’s—or Alzheimer’s itself. But the fact that the build-up of amyloid was connected to worse performance on the memory task highlights how early the disease process of Alzheimer’s may start: well before people experience any change in their intellectual skills. And one of the factors that may contribute to the accumulation of amyloid may be poor sleep. “Sleep is a great early warning beacon, a distress call that we can latch onto, to potentially alert us to the beginnings of Alzheimer’s,” says Walker.

MORE: New Research on Understanding Alzheimer’s

“What we think we found is a new way that disruption of sleep contributes to the pathology that can disrupt the cementing of memories,” says Bryce Mander, a post doctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the paper. The findings also resolve one of the puzzling questions in Alzheimer’s disease: why buildup of amyloid starts initially in areas of the brain that don’t have anything to do with memory. Mander and Walker’s team found that the protein does deposit, however, in areas of the brain that generate the wave patterns of deep sleep.

The relationship between sleep and amyloid is likely a two-way street, they say, in which the more amyloid that builds up, the worse the sleep, and the more disrupted the sleep, the more amyloid that gets deposited. Other studies have shown that deep sleep can cement memories as well as clear away amyloid. Not getting enough deep sleep, then, perpetuates the poor memory cycle.

What that means is that it might be possible to slow down some of the damage done by piled-up amyloid. If poor, disrupted sleep is promoting buildup, then getting more deep sleep might be able to reduce the protein burden in the brain. “If my parents and friends in their 50s, 60s or 70s ask me if they should pay attention to sleep and prioritize sleep in terms of their health risk of developing Alzheimer’s, I would say at this stage very much, ‘yes,’” says Walker. “It’s very clear now that sleep is an under-appreciated factor contributing to cognitive decline later in life, and it seems, to the pathology behind Alzheimer’s.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why You Might Want to Pay Attention to Your Kid’s Nightmares

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Children who had nightmares at age 12 had about twice the odds of having psychotic experiences later on

Most kids have nightmares some of the time and mostly those dreams mean nothing, except that your kids had something different for dinner or watched a particularly vivid movie or they’re feeling anxious about something. But kids who have nightmares often are at increased risk for developing psychotic symptoms later in adolescence, suggests a new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers from the U.K. wanted to look at the link between sleepwalking, nightmares and night terrors—when a person wakes up screaming but can’t remember why—in childhood and having psychotic experiences later in adolescence. “The term ‘psychotic’ obviously has connotations for people,” says study author Andrew Thompson, MD, associate clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of Warwick in Coventry. (And they’re not good ones.) But psychotic experiences can include more commonplace occurrences like a child hearing their name being called when it’s not, getting paranoid or thinking that people were trying to hurt them. Kids with symptoms like these don’t necessarily have (or develop) a mental illness or disorder, and many times those experiences means nothing, Thompson says. But symptoms like these, especially on the more severe end of the spectrum, may be forerunners of psychotic illness like schizophrenia.

The team analyzed data from a group of more than 4,000 children in the U.K. who were born around the same time, from birth until age 18. Using reports from children and their mothers on children’s sleepwalking, nightmares and night terrors, the researchers found that people who had nightmares and night terrors at age 12 had about twice the odds of reporting psychotic experiences at age 18. (They found no association with sleepwalking.)

It’s important to note that the risk of these psychotic symptoms is only about 5%, Thompson says, so a doubling of risk isn’t an alarming number. But the results could prove helpful for identifying risk factors for mental illnesses early. Sleep problems are one of the most common complaints among people with schizophrenia—but not nightmares specifically. “That’s maybe because we haven’t asked them,” Thompson says. These nightmares might be triggered by stress, anxiety or trauma, but they might also be a sign of future psychosis, the findings suggest. “We’d like to look into that and see whether these things are particularly important.”

In most cases, Thompson wants to be clear, nightmares are perfectly normal. “What we don’t want to do is frighten the whole world of parents with kids who have nightmares and think it’s a really bad sign, because that’s not the case,” Thompson explains. “It’s the people who have the persistent nightmares, the ones that affect their ability to go to school or concentrate at college. That’s the end of the spectrum that I think that, at the moment, doesn’t get very good treatment.”

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This Is the Country That Gets the Least Amount of Sleep

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New study sheds light on who gets the best sleep around the world

Wage disparity isn’t the only gender gap separating men and women.

It turns out men also generally wake up in a better mood than women. At least according to a new report from Sleep Cycle, the alarm clock app that analyzes users’ sleep patterns. The report, which draws on data from nearly one million Sleep Cycle users in 47 different countries, found that men wake up in a better mood than women in all but three countries: Colombia, Portugal and Ukraine.

In the U.S., though, that good mood doesn’t always follow more sleep. Sleep Cycle found that women in the U.S. sleep more than men on average every day of the week. On weeknights, U.S. men sleep an average of 6 hours and 54 minutes, while women sleep 7 hours and 11 minutes. On weekends, women sleep 7 minutes longer than men.

Globally, Japanese men sleep the least at less than 6 hours per night on average. Men and women in Finland and the Netherlands get the most sleep compared with other countries.

TIME health

How to Fall Asleep in Under a Minute

The simple method takes hardly any time, and can be done pretty much anywhere

Tech savvy. Culturally aware. Underemployed. Spiritual but not religious.

These are all words and phrases that have come to be associated with the “Milliennial Generation,” which is also sometimes referred to as Generation Y. Recently, however, two additional adjectives have worked their way into the Millennial description pool: stressed and sleepless.

The correlation between stress and sleep deprivation is becoming increasingly apparent in American society. NPR maintains that 60 million Americans are currently battling insomnia.

According to an American Psychological Association study titled Stress in America, more than 50 percent of Millennials report to having been kept awake at least one night over the course of the past month due to stress. This is comparable to only 37 percent of Baby Boomers and 25 percent of Matures.

Why does stress affect sleep? Stress is widely recognized as the body’s response to potentially harmful situations, whether real or imagined. Although the effects of stress most certainly vary from person to person, general reactions include quickened breathing, tightened muscles, spiked blood pressure, and an increased heart rate.

Fight or Flight or… Sleep?

These are, in short, all individual components of the body’s intrinsic and universally acknowledged “fight-or-flight” response. Many stressed out people have trouble falling asleep because they feel the weight of these symptoms most heavily at night.

Best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil, who received his M.D. from Harvard University in 1968, is a huge advocate of the benefits of holistic breathing practices in combatting stress and anxiety. On his website, Dr. Weil writes:

“Breathing strongly influences physiology and thought processes, including moods. By simply focusing your attention on your breathing, and without doing anything to change it, you can move in the direction of relaxation.”

Because the effects of stress include quick and shallow breaths that stem almost exclusively from the upper chest, perpetually stressed and anxious people are actually in the detrimental habit of under-breathing. Many stressed people are even known for subconsciously holding their breath.

That being said, mindful breathing practices are noticeably absent from the vast majority of Western medicine. Those most familiar with the relationship between breathing and the body tend to be yogis and practitioners of Eastern wellness methodologies.

How to Do The “4-7-8″ Exercise

Dr. Weil is an influential public supporter of a previously little-known breathing technique known as the “4-7-8 exercise.” This trick, which began to capture national attention several years ago and has since been the subject of innumerable headlines, including one on Oprah.com, is shockingly simple, takes hardly any time, and can be done pretty much anywhere.

Here is how you do the exercise:

  1. Place the tip of your tongue against the tissue ridge right above your upper front teeth. Keep it there for the remainder of the exercise.
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound as you do so.
  3. Close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose while mentally counting to four.
  4. Hold your breath for a mental count of seven.
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth for a mental count of eight. Make the same whoosh sound from Step Two.
  6. This concludes the first cycle. Repeat the same process three more times for a total of four renditions.

In a nutshell: breathe in for four, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight. You must inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. The four-count inhale allows chronic under-breathers to take in more oxygen. The seven-count hold gives the oxygen more time to thoroughly permeate the bloodstream, and the eight-count exhale slows the heart rate and releases a greater amount of carbon dioxide from the lungs.

Alina Gonzalez, who wrote “How I Learned to Fall Asleep in Under 1 Minute” for Byrdie.com, says that 4-7-8 helped her fall asleep amid her nerves and severe anxiety the week before she was scheduled to give the bridesmaid speech at her best friend’s wedding.

When Gonzalez told her friend that she was having trouble getting to sleep due to a combination of stress and pre-wedding jitters, the bride-to-be, who was a licensed wellness practitioner, told her that the 4-7-8 technique would change her life. It did. Like so many others who swear by this method, the originally skeptical Gonzalez wakes up each morning to the incredulous realization that she does not even remember completing the final 4-7-8 cycle because it put her to sleep so quickly.

The 4-7-8 exercise certainly has the potential to help overly stressed, anxiety-ridden Millennials (as well as members of the general population at large) fall asleep more quickly. It is also known to have positive effects when implemented throughout the day during times of stress, anger, guilt, frustration, or internal tension. When weighing the painlessness of this completely free method against the irritability, headaches, distractedness, impaired cognitive skills, weight gain, and even heart disease that can result from the “performance killer” known as sleep deprivation, it seems worth a shot.

This article originally appeared on Bit of News.

Read next: How to Tell When Feeling Tired Is a Sign of a Health Problem

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