Sleep is an essential bodily function. It helps you recover after a long day of work, and it keeps you on schedule and alert during your day. It also allows you to rest and recuperate. Without it, the human body would be unable to function. Think about it – how well do you perform when you’re sleepy? Bad sleep has been documented as displaying numerous negative results for decades. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation floating around the world that either ignores or over-emphasizes these findings, and you need to be aware of them. Here’s how psychologists debunk seven widely believed sleep myths.
1. You Can Sleep Anytime And Gain The Same Effects
A lot of people think that sleep is simply a quota of hours they have to fill. You might not realize that there’s more to it than that. This is simply a harmful sleep myth.
Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., a sleep researcher and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, published an extensive paper documenting how these myths are commonplace but harmful. Her studies, published in many peer-reviewed journals and cited during her interviews on TV and publications, reveal that sleeping at odd hours does much more harm than good.
Why does this happen? The answer lies in the body’s internal clock, which follows something known as the circadian rhythm. Human bodies are naturally designed to follow the rising and setting of the sun. The body jolts you awake when it sees sunlight and produces the sleep hormone melatonin when light is absent.
This means that sleeping at odd hours, such as maintaining a nocturnal schedule, can lead to circadian desynchronization. This issue causes the body to struggle to sleep with the same quality and quantity as nighttime sleep provides. But even small changes in the exact time of night you sleep can cause a similar effect – your body never gets into the perfect circadian rhythm for your lifestyle, bouncing around every day depending on when you choose to sleep.
Of course, some sleep in the day is better than no rest at all. But if you can help it, try to keep a regular sleep schedule, waking up in the morning and sleeping at night.
2. You Only Need Four or Five Hours Of Sleep
Technically, you probably “know” that the recommended amount of sleep per night is more than just five hours. But you might also think that you feel fine after less sleep than required, so you don’t need that much sleep.
Health psychologist Nancy L. Sin, who has published research that debunks this myth, makes it clear that at least seven hours of sleep are needed nightly to guarantee positive function the next day. Her studies show that a lack of sleep can have harmful effects on:
- Cardiovascular system
- Chronic illness
- Mental health
- Mood and positive thinking
A lack of sleep causes you to have more trouble managing stress, which means you enjoy your daily life much less and have more difficulty concentrating and completing tasks.
Some people believe that you can “train” yourself to do well on very little sleep, but there’s no evidence to support this theory. There’s so much evidence to the contrary that it’s almost safe to assume this idea of sleep-training is entirely false.
There’s a small caveat here: some little evidence exists that suggests short and long sleep phenotypes in certain people, meaning some will do fine without seven hours of sleep. But this phenotype is extremely rare, and it’s much safer to make sure you’re getting seven hours of rest nightly!
3. Stay In Bed, Even When You Can’t Sleep
This is one of those sleep myths that people rarely consider. A vast number of people believe that, if they find themselves tossing and turning, they should force themselves to stay in bed. But, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s advice, getting out of bed is more likely to have a positive outcome.
This is because lying awake in your bed for prolonged periods can associate the bed with wakefulness. The mental connection that you may create here from this link can lead to it being even more challenging for you to fall asleep in this environment in the future.
So what should you do instead? After 20 minutes of trying and failing to fall asleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends leaving your bed and doing relaxing activities for a short period, such as:
- Listening to soft music
- Simply sitting or lying down elsewhere.
This myth can easily be disproved with this simple fact: most people experience multiple dreams per night, between four and five of them. Department of Population Health professor and researcher Girardin Jean-Louis states that we don’t remember most of them because our sleep isn’t disrupted. Thus, the dreams fade away without waking us up.
Studies have found that those who remember their dreams vividly:
- Wake up twice as much at night
- Are much more sensitive to sounds when awake and asleep
- Experience more brain activity in the part of their brains that processes information
This indicates that remembering dreams means that you’re experiencing lower quality sleep. Yikes!
Do note that it is possible to remember dreams later in the day, not right after you wake up and that this usually doesn’t have any bearing on your sleep quality. Incredibly emotional dreams, for example, may suddenly be recalled when you’re relaxing during your day or if something triggers it. Apart from that, though, mundane dreams are rarely remembered.
5. It’s Possible To Sufficiently Catch Up On Sleep
It’s easy to think that you can sacrifice some sleep during the weekdays and sleep in on weekends to make up for it. Unfortunately, rest isn’t a debt that you can just pay off. There’s no real way to “catch up” on a lack of sleep, mostly if that lack of sleep happens multiple days in a row.
Studies indicate that although sleeping in might help you be more awake than usual, it doesn’t help with your performance in everyday tasks or work. As a matter of fact, when you try to catch up on a lot of sleep loss with extra hours spent napping, you’re doing more damage to your ability to function than if you had pulled an all-nighter.
6. Turkey, Milk, and Cheese Help Sleep – Or Give You Nightmares
This rather odd myth isn’t accurate in the slightest. It’s based on the concept of tryptophan inducing sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is used in the production of serotonin. In turn, serotonin is needed to produce melatonin. That’s where this myth comes from, but the connection isn’t really significant.
Studies have been conducted to attempt to find links between tryptophan and sleep, but not only is the effect not overwhelming even in high amounts, but no foods have that much of the amino acid in them anyway. Ultimately, the component has no effect on sleep, mood, positive thinking, or cognitive ability.
What about the myth that cheese gives you nightmares? Well, that one’s not true, either – and there’s no telling where that myth rose from! Still, it’s worth following the advice of not eating cheese, or anything else, before bed, says Harvard Men’s Health Watch, Former Editor in Chief Dr. William Kormos. This advice is because:
- Consuming high-carbohydrate meals before dinner may cause night sweats due to the way the body digests carbs.
- Eating large amounts of food before bedtime can lead to indigestion.
- Eating a meal before lying down in bed can cause heartburn.
- An active gut trying to digest your last meal will keep you awake for longer or wake you up during the night.
- Stomach discomfort while sleeping can reduce sleep quality significantly
7. Drinking Alcohol Before Bed Helps You Rest Easier (maybe the most common of our sleep myths)
If you’re in the habit of drinking nightcaps, you likely know you get sleepy after some alcohol. Unfortunately, that sleepiness will eventually backfire. To better understand that, you need to understand how alcohol is absorbed and used in the body.
- 1: Alcohol relaxes you and causes a sedating feeling as it depresses the central nervous system.
- 2: The alcohol rebounds, resulting in a jolt to the central nervous system, filling you with more adrenaline.
- 3: The adrenaline boost, typically happening while you’re asleep, causes your REM sleep, or deep sleep, to be interrupted; it may even completely wake you up!
- 4: The lack of deep sleep means you don’t get restorative sleep, so you’re more tired the next day.
It’s OK to drink a glass of something alcoholic every day, provided your doctor gives you the all-clear. But try to stop consuming alcohol within several hours of your bedtime, or you risk harming your rest for the night! The National Sleep Foundation, and multiple studies, certainly agree!
In our day and age, access to information is astronomical. It’s easy to get caught up in the sheer volume of data that is just at your fingertips, but then you may forget that not all of that date is accurate. Myths about health and wellness have been around since even before the advent of the internet,
Additional problems then arise when you believe incorrect information and follow it. It’s fine when it’s over something mundane and unimportant, but some of this insufficient data pertain to health and wellness. Given how difficult it can be the maintain the body’s balance of good health and efficiency, just believing a couple of wrong tidbits of info can have noticeable unwanted consequences.
This is why staying aware of what is real and what isn’t is so important. It’s crucial to recognize when a piece of information is accurate and when it’s just a myth, even more so when it relates to your health. And when it comes to sleep, you can’t afford to trust the wrong information!
So the next time someone has a fact to share about sleep, do yourself a favor, ask for their evidence, or look it up yourself. Don’t believe and follow everything you hear! If you have questions or concerns regarding these sleep myths, talk to your doctor.