Pilar Pérez Madrid


Updated Tuesday, January 30, 2024-15:34

You close your eyes. And maybe, if you're lucky, six or seven hours have passed when the alarm goes off. For one in four people in the world this is not the case. Those who suffer

from insomnia

repeat the first step in a loop during the night.

We don't sleep well

. Seven hours a day is the minimum amount recommended for those over 18 years of age. For many it is a waste of time. For doctors, not doing so is throwing stones at our own roof. "It's actually a very beautiful process, the brain does a lot of really interesting things."

Jade Wu highlights everything that happens in our body, when we think we are doing nothing. "It cleanses your brain, stimulates your immune system. It allows you to cultivate it, releases sexual hormones, growth hormones...

When you are sick, sleep helps you heal and improve

. It regulates your emotions and makes you learn things and remember them better, places your memories in long-term storage so you can remember all the experiences of your life," Wu says. "And, also, you dream, you sleep. All of that is something mysterious and wonderful at the same time."

To know more


The scientist who watches over your dream: "Abolishing the time change would be best for health"

  • Editor: CRISTINA G. LUCIO Madrid

The scientist who watches over your dream: "Abolishing the time change would be best for health"


Sleep to keep cardiovascular or neurological pathologies away


Sleep to keep cardiovascular or neurological pathologies away

From the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University (USA), Wu has been

researching sleep for years and treating patients with problems related to it

. The concern to know what happens in this complex process came to him in childhood.

At five years old, her father, a scientist at the Chinese Space Agency, took her to a sleep laboratory for cosmonauts. She "researched how space flights impacted the rest of astronauts." For her, her father was the "coolest and most intelligent scientist because he had


books and worked with astronauts." She confesses Wu that this "planted the first seeds of my interest in sleep science."

That first foray led to a clinical career in which

sleep has been found as a common denominator in many pathologies

. "When I was studying, everywhere I looked there it was. In anxiety, depression, Parkinson's, post-traumatic stress disorder to eating disorders, there is a line that crossed everything: people were not sleeping well."

One of Wu's purposes is

to return the dream to its owners

. "We have to recover the good relationship with him." The behavioral sleep medicine specialist wants us to see him as a friend. "If a person lived to be 100 years old, he would spend 33 years sleeping. Wouldn't it be better to get along with him?"

Without conceiving sleep as an enemy and without resorting to medication, Wu has written the book

Hello, Sleep

(Paidós), with which he challenges all those who cannot sleep regularly to recover the healthy habit of a good night's rest. . "When you establish the habit, it's really not that difficult."

But there is a basic rule: no drugs. This is what the subtitle of the manual says: "

The science and art of overcoming insomnia without pills

. "

Wu defends that it is possible. "In the US, many people take sleep medications, even without a prescription. In Europe, melatonin requires a prescription."

On the other side of the screen, Wu asks us if this is like this in Spain. "There, I don't know if self-medication also exists to alleviate sleep problems." The truth is that yes. Medicines can be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies. Here the health professional can recommend one or the other according to needs. In parapharmacies and herbalists, products are sold, some labeled as

natural remedies, that promise to take us to the arms of Morpheus without side effects


"It's tempting to use medication to try to sleep," Wu says, going on to explain

why this is nothing more than a band-aid

. "Treating sleep problems like this doesn't really solve the situation. It doesn't improve sleep, and it could even lead to other pathologies."

Historian Benjamin Reiss in

Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World

explains that during industrialization Europeans began to notice the rise of insomnia. And experts associated it with the "nerves" that accompanied society.

In this historical journey that Reiss proposes, we reach a 20th century where

we define a good night's sleep very strictly

: eight hours in a row, locked in private rooms, children separated from their parents. But for most of human history, virtually no one slept like this.

21st century society has created the perfect framework: I prevent you from sleeping because I need you awake to consume and I give you the pill when you want to sleep but can't. If one looks at the offer through the Internet, it is vast but dangerous. About 15 products appear in the sponsored area, and more than 2.5 million references in less than half a second.



to a problem for which "

you have to look for a reason

. There is always a disorder to fix or we can even find a pathology behind it," insists Wu. From medicinal plants such as valerian and passionflower, through the famous melatonin to some antihistamines that are used for their side effect, sleep.

Without forgetting that

one does not take a sleeping pill when ingesting melatonin, no

. This substance is a hormone that regulates our internal clock, circadian rhythms. Or what is the same: the mechanism that our body has to differentiate between day and night, sleep and wakefulness and order the processes that take place in it. "It may be useless. Or even counterproductive," insists Wu.

The argument is clear: when you get ready to sleep, you may have started the internal processes of melatonin segregation, so it would be of no use. "But it can also cause us to fall asleep later or wake up earlier." At least, in this case, "this substance does not create physiological dependence."

Wu focuses on

what we tell the brain when we take the


pill . "Okay, I'm going to sleep with this. The first day it works." The effect can last for a while, but what happens when the magic wears off. "We increased the dose." And we start again. "We have created a habit. An addiction to a medication that, without a medical prescription, we do not need."


. That is the word one finds in

Hello, dream

. "The book is based on

the most effective insomnia treatment: cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

," says Wu. "Our body loves routine. As long as we can establish a good, consistent one, the body will function better. So if you sleep well, you think better and metabolize better."

Keys to good sleep

  • Marketing.

    For pharmaceutical companies, the sleep market boosted their numbers by more than 500% between 2003 and 2014, despite requiring a prescription in the EU and other countries.

  • Open bar.

    In the US, melatonin is consumed without a prescription as if it were a sleeping pill and it is a hormone. In addition, it is sold in quantities greater than that declared on the label.

  • Habit.

    Through the different parts of the book, the scientist proposes three basic components to recover a night's rest: cognitive, behavioral, and sleep hygiene.

  • Internal clock.

    To keep our biorhythms on time, we must expose ourselves to a greater amount of light, preferably natural, during the day and lower the intensity at night.

It is not a complex and strict step by step.

"We must put aside pressure, anxiety and all the negative thoughts that prevent us from falling asleep

." There is also no diet that restricts screens, coffee and forces us to sleep in isolation, but "you do notice what we must take into account. One does not go to the gym in any way. One prepares oneself. One does not sit down to eat in any way, If done well, set the table, select the food...", he details.

Sleeping is a habit.

"A routine that we must acquire from a young age. We know that it changes with time and circumstances. Therefore,

we must accept bad nights and streaks in which we do not sleep

." And, what is the line that divides an irregular stage of sleep and insomnia problems? "That sleeping problems persist for one to three months. And always differentiating between insomnia, as an inability to fall asleep, and sleep deprivation for different reasons, such as work, endless seasons of the series...".

It's not about controlling sleep

, there is no magic key or pill that will do it. Throughout the talk Wu uses friendly language, "because we must be patient, not frustrated, be benevolent and flexible with the guidelines that will lead us to sleep better."

And at this point, the question is obligatory:

-What is your recipe for sleeping well?

-I have a reminder on my phone half an hour before I go to bed at night. So I start to prepare.

I put aside whatever I'm doing.

I take a shower, go for a walk with my husband and my dog. I try to maintain a routine that takes me away from the hustle and bustle of the day.

Wu likes to go to bed late. But she has two little girls, a demanding job and she needs to get up early in the morning. For her "sleep is a priority."