Though we all spend a third of our lives asleep, there’s a good chance you believe many misconceptions about the process. If you think it’s dangerous to wake up sleepwalkers, that sleeping in on weekends can make up for a week of sleep loss, and that sleeping pills are harmless, then this article is for you.
Below, we’ll look at 24 sleep myths and the facts behind them.
1. Snoring is Harmless
Though few people would state that they enjoy snoring, few people consider it to be a threat to their health. While this is often true, snoring can also be a sign of more significant health problems like sleep apnea. This potentially life-threatening condition is characterized by pauses in breathing while you sleep that prevent air from flowing through your airways. Sleep apnea often causes you to temporarily wake up from gasping for breath as your body strives to restore its blood oxygen levels. This process strains your cardiovascular system, potentially leading to heart problems or even heart attacks.
Besides sleep apnea, snoring has been linked to other health problems like hypertension and obesity. If you’re becoming a louder sleep, it’s smart to make an appointment with your doctor to see whether a more serious issue is to blame.
2. You Can Make Up a Sleep Debt Over the Weekend
Weekday sleep deprivation is becoming an alarming trend, and many people are striving to catch up over the weekend. Contrary to popular belief, research shows that sleeping in over the weekend won’t make up for a week’s worth of exhaustion. While one good night of sleep can temporarily restore your performance, the positive effects wear off after a few hours and your reaction times will slow down significantly by the end of the day. If you want to stay at top performance, the only solution is to sleep well on weeknights, not just weekends.
3. Your Body Can Easily Adjust to a New Sleep Schedule
While working the night shift might seem like a straightforward task for your body, the truth is that your system struggles more than you realize to adjust to new sleep schedules because of your natural circadian rhythm. For the smoothest transition, it’s best to shift your sleep time by an hour each night to slowly reset your internal clock.
4. If You’re Tired During the Day, You Need to Sleep More at Night
It’s easy to blame a bad night’s sleep for feeling exhausted during the day, but the fact is that daytime sleepiness isn’t always linked to your overall sleep level. Inexplicable exhaustion can be the result of numerous health conditions, including sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and more. Turning in earlier might not solve the problem, so you might need to work with an expert instead.
5. Sleeping Pills Aren’t Dangerous
Sleeping pills are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs worldwide, but that doesn’t make them safe to use. Research seems to indicate that taking them regularly can triple your risk of developing cancer, which should be a significant concern for the approximately ten percent of the U.S. population that uses them each year.
6. You Don’t Need a Sleep Routine
These days, all the talk of ‘wellness routines’ might make you wish you could live your life without any schedules. However, the importance of setting up a wind-down routine before bed can’t be overstated. Beginning the process of falling asleep an hour before bedtime primes your system for sleep, so consider ending each night with a calming herbal tea or by turning off all electronics a few hours before you hit your pillow. The key to success is following the routine each night, so strive to stay accountable.
7. Older People Need Less Sleep
There’s a common sleep myth that older adults need less rest than the rest of us. The idea gains ground because most grandparents seem to wake up long before the sun comes up each day. However, sleep experts have found that the amount of sleep we need stays consistent through our lives, while sleep patterns themselves tend to change. Generally speaking, elderly people tend to fall asleep earlier, rise more frequently throughout the night, wake up earlier, and take longer, more frequent naps during the day.
8. One Hour Less of Sleep Per Night Won’t Hurt You
It’s easy to sacrifice an hour of sleep for another episode of Netflix, but this simple trade has a more significant effect on health than you likely realize. Losing even an hour of sleep each night can impact your reaction times and cognitive abilities, even if you don’t physically feel more tired. A chronic sleep debt is especially dangerous while driving, and it can lead to adverse effects for your immune system.
9. Eating Cheese Before Bed Gives You Nightmares
Dairy looms large in sleeping myth lore, and many people believe that eating cheese before bed can trigger nightmares. However, rich foods as a whole might be causing the symptoms, rather than cheese specifically. Stick with bland foods before bedtime, and you are less likely to suffer stomach problems that lead to nightmares.
10. You Can Thrive on Less than Four Hours of Sleep
Society likes to tell us that some of the most successful people around thrive on far less sleep than the average person. While scientists have recently discovered a gene that allows some people to succeed on four hours a night or less, only two percent of the population seems to have it. For the rest of us, getting seven to eight hours of nightly rest is necessary to stay fit, healthy and alert. You might think that you can train your body to function on less, but depriving yourself is only compromising your health and cognitive abilities in the long run.
11. Thanksgiving Turkey will Make You Tired
The myth that snacking on turkey will make you tired is based on the premise that the meat contains tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleepiness. However, the amount found in turkey isn’t enough to make you tired. If you’re feeling tired, you can attribute that to the effects of eating a large, rich meal.
12. Your Body Rests During Sleep
While most people assume that your brain essentially shuts down when you fall asleep, the reality is that it stays awake and active while you rest. Instead, your system shifts through REM and non-REM sleep in 90-minute cycles, and each stage produces different therapeutic effects. For instance, delta waves increase as you sleep and your endocrine system produces human growth hormone and prolactin during the night. This means that your body relies on you getting adequate amounts of sleep to keep functioning as it should.
13. Watching TV Before Bed Helps You Sleep
If you’re struggling to fall asleep, one conventional technique is to turn on the TV until you feel yourself fading. However, this strategy isn’t as successful as it seems for promoting your rest. Televisions emit blue light wavelengths that mess with your ability to regulate melatonin production, which consequently upsets your biological clock. For this reason, some research indicates a connection between high TV consumption and depression. Likewise, the flickering light and constant background noise are likely to make you feel more alert, making it difficult to fall asleep.
14. Never Wake up a Sleepwalker
Sleepwalking is more common than most people think, but many of us have long been told never to wake up a sleepwalker. The theory goes that waking someone up from such a deep sleep can lead to severe shock, which can potentially trigger health problems like a heart attack. Despite this myth’s popularity, there’s little evidence that you’ll cause many problems by waking up a sleepwalker. Letting them keep sleeping, in contrast, can lead to problems if they trip and fall or attempt risky behaviors like walking downstairs, going outside, or even trying to drive a car.
15. Drinking Alcohol Will Improve Your Sleep
While alcohol is primarily considered a sedative and many people finish their evenings with a glass to relax, the reality is that those glasses of wine won’t improve your sleep. In fact, alcohol can cause you to fall asleep faster, but you’ll get lighter, less restful sleep in the process. This makes it likely that you will wake up in the middle of the night. Your body metabolizes alcohol throughout the night, which reduces the chances that you get the restorative REM sleep your brain needs.
16. Teens Who Fall Asleep in Class are Lazy
It’s a standard practice to consider teenagers to be lazy and unmotivated because of their sleeping habits, but in reality, their circadian rhythm is out of whack with the requirements of their days. Most adolescents need up to ten hours of sleep a night, and they undergo a change in their circadian rhythms called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome that shifts their melatonin production by two hours, which affects their waking and sleeping cycles accordingly. Rather than criticizing the teenager in your life for a seemingly erratic sleep schedule, keep in mind that they are responding to what their bodies want.
17. It’s Best to Wait Out Insomnia Until You Feel Tired
If you struggle to fall asleep, you’ve likely been told to stay in bed until you feel tired. For many people, spending time in bed when you can’t sleep leads only to insomnia and anxiety. A better option is to leave the room, grab your book (NOT your phone), do some light housekeeping, or find other ways to distract yourself from being awake. In little time, you’ll start feeling tired naturally.
18. Melatonin Won’t Impact Your Sleep
Considering the popularity of prescription sleep aids, many people harbor doubts that natural supplements like melatonin can make much difference. However, melatonin is a critical compound for regulating your sleep level, and the amount your body produces decreases as you age.
While you could take melatonin supplements, you can also boost melatonin production through more natural means to aid irregular sleep patterns. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to raise your melatonin levels, and we dive into the details in this article.
19. Yawning is Just a Sign of Tiredness
Yawning is usually considered to be a symptom of fatigue, but this is proving to be more of a myth. Scientists still aren’t entirely sure what leads to yawning, but leading theories include that it helps to cool your brain down and that it potentially helped our ancestors coordinate their sleeping and waking times so that they could work together in community.
20. If You’re Driving While Tired, Rolling Down the Window is the Solution
While many people believe there’s little risk of driving while tired, the truth is that getting in a car while impaired in any way puts your life at serious risk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that over 5,000 crashes each year are attributed to drowsy driving, and cranking the music or opening windows won’t make much difference to help you wake up. Rather, if you feel your eyes getting heavy, it’s best to pull over in a safe place and take a quick nap.
21. Daytime Naps are Bad for Productivity
In the modern world, we often look at naps as a sign of slacking off and as a trait of lazy people. However, the evidence shows that strategic naps during the day can make an immense difference in your productivity. One study found that pilots who made a habit of taking short naps were better flyers than their peers, and some of the world’s biggest achievers like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein took naps regularly.
22. Sleeping Naked isn’t Smart for Your Health
While it might sound counterintuitive, sleeping naked is one of the best ways to get quality rest. The UniSA’s Centre for Sleep Research reports that the body needs to drop its core temperature for you to fall asleep initially, and failing to do so can trigger insomnia. If you want to keep your internal temperature cool, consider stripping down before hitting the sheets.
23. Your Sleep Level Has Little to Do with Your Health Problems
Poor sleep affects more than your cognitive abilities. Research reveals a strong relationship between the quality of your sleep and health problems like obesity, diabetes, and hormone imbalances. A lack of sleep can also lead to a lower functioning immune system and higher stress levels, likely due to the build-up of cortisol.
24. Only Prescription Medications Can Help You Sleep
Considering the popularity of prescription sleep medication, it’s not surprising that some people believe that they are the only option for improving their sleep. However, there are plenty of natural options available that will help you fall asleep faster without triggering adverse side effects. For instance, both valerian root and magnesium oil can provide the same sleep relief as prescription sedatives without provoking adverse reactions. If you want to skip supplements altogether, consider using a weighted blanket to relax you while in bed.