There are a lot of misconceptions around sleep and the best way to achieve optimal Zzzzz’s. With the help of some amazing research, we look at the science behind some of the most popular myths to discover if there is any truth behind these beliefs
MYTH 1: ADULTS NEED 8 HOURS OF SLEEP EVERY NIGHT
FACT: Getting enough sleep is vital to cognition, performance and overall health. It allows the body to repair and restore itself in preparation for the day’s strain. Eight hours of sleep is the commonly accepted goal for adults, but 8 hours isn’t necessarily the correct amount of Zs for everyone. The usual recommendation is that adults aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
How much you need as opposed to how much you get is a different thing. Your sleep needs can change daily, based on factors including how much sleep you got the night before and the amount of exercise and stress you accumulated throughout the day.
MYTH 2: TIME IN BED = TIME ASLEEP
FACT: Many people think that if they go to bed at 11 pm and wake up at 7 am they’re getting 8 hours of sleep. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. In reality, if you’re in bed for 8 hours you’re probably getting a lot closer to 7 hours of sleep. Disturbances, waking periods and frequent toilet trips amount to minutes or hours of lost sleep each night.
MYTH 3: WAKING UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT ISN’T NORMAL
FACT: While sleeping uninterrupted is a goal, it’s normal for even the best sleepers to have disturbances and even be awake for short periods of time. Wakings can be exacerbated by noise, artificial light, a partner’s movements and other causes.
MYTH 4: HOW LONG YOU SLEEP IS ALL THAT MATTERS
FACT: Duration is important, but it’s not everything. Sleep quality and sleep consistency are vital to your overall health. Health issues such as sleep apnea and insomnia can cause disruptions in your sleep cycle. Even if you meet your sleep goals, you still may not feel refreshed when you wake up if you had lots of interruptions.
MYTH 5: YOU CAN’T CATCH UP ON SLEEP
MAYBE TRUE? Everyone has bad nights spent tossing and turning and staring at the clock. When you fail to meet your body’s sleep needs you begin to accumulate sleep debt. Sleep debt is the amount of extra sleep you need because of insufficient sleep the night before.
Naps can help you catch up, but also risk you impacting your sleep when you go to bed at night.
Short naps have been proven to enhance mental and physical performance, put you in a better mood and increase alertness. The “power nap,” an early afternoon nap between 10 and 20 minutes, allows you to enter light sleep but not a full sleep cycle. This can help you feel refreshed rather than groggy. The average length of a full sleep cycle is about 90 minutes. A 90-minute nap allows you to spend time in each sleep stage (light, deep and REM) and can help you feel rested and rejuvenated.
MYTH 6: WATCHING TV OR USING YOUR PHONE ARE GOOD WAYS TO RELAX BEFORE BED
FACT: A bedtime routine can help you unwind from the day and trigger natural sleep hormones to tell your brain and body it is time for rest. However, your bedtime routine should not include watching TV or looking at your phone. Blue light from electronics can directly affect your circadian rhythm and make you feel more alert and have difficulty switching off. Glasses that block blue light are becoming more common in households. Many phone models also offer settings that alter the screen temperature to a warmer color filtering out blue light.
MYTH 7: ALCOHOL BEFORE BED HELPS YOU SLEEP
FACT: Drinking alcohol may put you to sleep, but it does not provide good quality sleep. The sedative effect of alcohol prevents you reaching the restorative stages of sleep as your body instead works hard to process the alcohol in your system. Even if you sleep for a long time after drinking, you won’t wake feeling rested. Hence the tired hangover…
MYTH 8: BEING ABLE TO FALL ASLEEP ANYTIME IS HEALTHY
FACT: Being able to fall asleep at any time and anywhere is not a sign of being a good sleeper. It’s a sign of having sleep problems.
While some people, including military personnel, have trained themselves to sleep at any time using specific techniques, dropping off to sleep at random times is different. It can be a sign of insomnia, issues with circadian rhythm cycles and even sleep apnea.
MYTH 9: LYING IN BED WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED IS AS GOOD AS SLEEPING
FACT: We all experience the occasional sleepless night, but lying there trying to sleep is not the same as sleeping, and it doesn’t have the same benefits. Sleep is a state in which we experience sensory detachment from our surroundings. It’s when our brains process the previous day’s activities and the body is rested, repaired and prepared for the next day.
Rest, while good for your physical and mental well-being, does not involve the same levels of disengagement from surroundings as sleep.
MYTH 10: YOU CAN LEARN TO FUNCTION JUST AS WELL WITH LESS SLEEP
FACT: You may be able to function on less nighttime sleep by taking a nap during the day, but that’s not the same as functioning on less sleep.
Research indicates that participants who cut their sleep to 6 hours a night suffered the same decreases in cognitive function and reaction time as people who went several nights without sleep.
This is unfortunately a big factor with our shift workers out there and ongoing sleep deprivation.
MYTH 11: SNORING IS MOSTLY HARMLESS
FACT: Snoring occurs due to many factors including anatomical, sleep apnoea, alcohol consumption, allergies, illness, and weight. Almost everyone snores occasionally, and it is relatively harmless (although those around you might not think so). If the noise is accompanied by other symptoms, it may be time to see a sleep specialist.
Symptoms such as pauses in breathing, gasping or choking at night, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and a sore throat or headache upon waking can be signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People with OSA are at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and have an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents due to lack of sleep.
MYTH 12: EXERCISING AT NIGHT IS BAD FOR SLEEP
FACT: Exercising at night has always been seen as bad for sleep, studies suggest that evening workouts are fine, as long as you have a chance to wind down before bed.
Researchers found that not only did evening exercise not affect the quality of sleep, it also appeared to help people fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep—with the caveat that those who did high-intensity training less than an hour before bedtime had longer sleep latency—the length of time it takes you to fall asleep—and had poorer sleep quality.
Exercise is becoming more common with peoples’ everyday lives and busy schedules.
MYTH 13: READING IN BED IMPACTS YOUR SLEEP
FACT: Studies have shown that just 6 minutes of reading a book dramatically reduces individuals’ stress compared to other activities, including listening to music or taking a walk. Reading can distract your mind, allowing your muscles to relax and your breathing to slow. All of these things make you feel calmer and let you sleep.
Don’t stay up all night reading though, aim for 20-30 minutes max and put the book down if you start feeling sleepy before that. What you read doesn’t matter as long as it’s interesting to you. Caution should be made when reading from a screen, similar to myth 5 of avoiding screens at night.