Written by Shea Morrison, Co-Founder of The Goodnight Co
If you are looking to get more sleep, then it’s time to separate the fact from the fiction and look at busting some of the more common myths surrounding sleep. The reality is we are often the biggest culprits of our own sleep deprivation. We find it hard to break bad habits and buy into sleep myths that hinder good sleep. So, now it’s time to find out which sleep myths may be preventing you from getting a better night’s sleep.
Myth #1: We need eight hours
We view all sleep with a personalised approach, there is no ‘magic number”. It is a good idea to work out how you function best depending on the amount of sleep you get – test it over a week and see what works best for you and then try to slip into a consistent routine with this. Research has found that those who frequently get fewer than six hours a night are at significantly increased risk of stroke and heart disease, with evidence that not sleeping enough may ramp up the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, releasing hormones that speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure.
Sleep tip: Find your personal nightly sleep hours, it should be between 7 – 9 hours for most adults.
Myth #2: Once a poor sleeper, always a bad sleeper
It is always possible to achieve better sleep. Start by looking at your bedroom environment – is it cool, quiet and dark? Improve ‘sleep hygiene’ by keeping electrical devices like TVs and laptops out of the bedroom. Give yourself time to wind down properly before bed and make sure that the bed you’re sleeping on is comfortable, supportive and less than ten years old. Lifestyle, exercise and diet also play a part in getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep Tip: Adopt a consistent night-time routine and stick to it
Myth #3: Eating cheese gives you nightmares
There’s no solid evidence to suggest that cheese causes nightmares. In fact, cheese is actually a good bedtime snack especially when it’s combined with oak crackers. Calcium, found in cheese, is a natural sleep aid as it contains tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to produce melatonin (the sleep inducing hormone.)
Sleep Tip: If you like cheese, think about including this in your diet as a natural sleep aid
Myth #4: Daytime naps are bad for you
Napping is not generally encouraged as it does have an effect on night time sleep. However if you haven’t slept well, a planned daytime nap can improve alertness without necessarily affecting nocturnal sleep – in fact they can give you as much energy as two cups of strong coffee, but the effects are longer lasting. Twenty minutes is sufficient to turn off the nervous system and recharge the whole body – more than 30 minutes, though, is long enough to put you in a deep sleep and leave you feeling groggy when you wake. Naps caused by sleepiness from insomnia may impair night time sleep and always remember that they are not a permanent solution to sleep deprivation.
Sleep Tip: 20 – 30 minutes is the perfect nap time (no longer!)
Myth #5: A glass of wine helps you sleep better
While drinking alcohol may make you tired and cuts the time it takes to first nod off (and of course drinking a lot will really knock you out), in reality it only leads to fragmented sleep, robs us of one of our most satisfying types of sleep (where dreams occur) and wakes up during the night. Leave an hour to two hours before going to bed so the alcohol is already wearing off.
Sleep Tip: Try to avoid alcohol 1 – 2 hours before bed
Myth #6: If you can’t fall asleep at night, sleep more on weekends
Bingeing on sleep over the weekend and not sleeping during the week – what Harvard sleep expert Robert Stickgold, PhD, calls ‘sleep bulimia’ – upsets your circadian rhythm and makes it even harder to get refreshing sleep. To achieve good quality sleep, stick to a regular sleep wake schedule. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will program your body to sleep better.
Sleep Tip: Stick to a regular sleep routine all week including weekends
Myth #7: If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in bed, count sheep, or toss and turn until you eventually fall back asleep
Technically it can.. It’s the repetitive nature of the task that actually makes you feel sleepy or fall asleep. If you’re counting sheep, you’re less likely to be thinking any other thoughts that are worrying you or playing on your mind. Absorption in a mental task is an aspect of mindfulness and can help to relax you.
Sleep Tip: Try to relax, incorporate deep breathing or relaxation techniques to help you nod off again
Myth #8: The older you get, the less sleep you need
It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. It’s not about needing less sleep, but unfortunately as we get older sleep quality declines and we experience a change in sleeping patterns – whether that’s waking more frequently during the night, loss of non-REM sleep or more daytime napping. There are all sorts of ways in which older people can help themselves to a better night’s sleep – all of them are really based on good old-fashioned common sense such as taking a look at the bedroom environment. Mostly it’s just a case of adjusting daily routines as sleeping patterns change – and trying to limit the cat naps!
Sleep Tip: focus on achieving quality sleep and frequent daytime napping – maybe just try to have 1 nap a day
The bottom line.
These common misconceptions about sleep can lead to unhealthy sleep habits. We hope that by debunking these myths, you’ll gain a better understanding about sleep and improve your own sleep routines, and ultimately, improve your life.
We’re on a mission to help you sleep better and as our Co-Founder, Shea Morrison said “we believe that becoming aware of the importance of sleep, and the health implications of not enough sleep, is the first step. Once we’re awake to the benefits of sleep, we know everyone will feel more inclined to start taking steps towards improving their own”.
To find out more about the science of sleep, head to the Journal.