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Notes on napping

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Giraffes do it for less than two hours a day, while pythons notch up 18 hours. Margaret Thatcher slept for only four hours a night. Thomas Edison declared sleeping a waste of time.

While Edison was obviously wrong, the exact amount of sleep that humans need is the subject of much debate. Jim Horne, former director of the Loughborough Sleep Institute, summed it up succinctly: “The amount of sleep we require is what we need not to be sleepy in the daytime.”

As March is National Bed Month, pharmacists may be asked for more advice than usual about healthy sleep and hypnotics. To help promote its awareness month, the Sleep Council has put together some facts and figures about our nocturnal habits. Nearly half of people now claim to get six hours or less sleep a night, for example.

The Sleep Council also makes suggestions for the best types of food to eat before bedtime. Large meals are to be avoided but a suitable light snack is one that contains complex carbohydrates and protein, as well as calcium. So, think dairy products. Green leafy vegetables are also a good source of calcium.

Low sugar, wholegrain cereals increase the availability of tryptophan, which can increase levels of serotonin and melatonin, encouraging sleep. Bananas contain tryptophan, but also magnesium and potassium, which can help relax muscles. And most fish contains vitamin B6, which also encourages melatonin production.

Modern lifestyles are an important contributor to insomnia. The Sleep Council found that today’s seven- to 14-year-olds go to bed nearly 40 minutes later than their grandparents’ generation. And 28 per cent spend less than half an hour playing outside on school days, contrasting with the 21 per cent of their grandparents who spent more than three hours a day as children playing outside.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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