You spend a large portion of your life sleeping, but how much do you actually know about how to get a good night’s rest? Many people struggle with getting enough quality sleep, which can lead to both short and long-term negative health consequences, and often seek out sleep advice on the internet. Common sleep myths and obsolete sleep tips, however, are widely available online or perpetuated in our day-to-day lives, and it’s hard to tell which advice is misinformed and which is scientifically valid.
With one in three adults not getting enough sleep according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s important to know which sleep “tips'' may actually be degrading your sleep quality. Much of this advice is based on obsolete science. New scientific research shows that many of our beliefs about sleep are false and potentially harmful. However, identifying our false beliefs can help promote improved sleep quality and overall wellness. We’ll review some common obsolete sleep tips and how research has debunked them.
Many people claim that they don’t require as much sleep as the average person because they naturally function better that way. While new studies suggest that some people may have a genetic mutation that enables them to function on shorter periods of sleep, the vast majority of us still require the recommended amount of sleep.
Shorter sleep duration is associated with an increased risk of chronic disease, and even short-term sleep deficiency can impact your physiological and emotional wellness. While the ideal amount of sleep can vary from person to person, most will fall in the normal range for their age groups.
As a culture, we’re fixated on productivity and efficiency, and as such we tend to sacrifice sleep to accomplish other tasks while convincing ourselves that we function just as well. The irony of this obsolete sleep tip is that insufficient sleep can impair your cognitive, emotional and physiological abilities, leading to decreased productivity and increased risk throughout your day. You may be able to complete your tasks and goals but with decreased efficiency, and chronic sleep deprivation is likely to increase your risk of negative health consequences.
Studies show that over 50% of participants reported snoring, but many people believe that snoring doesn’t negatively affect sleep quality. And yet, snorers report decreased sleep duration and increased daytime sleepiness. Snoring is also associated with negative sleep behaviors, heart disease, stroke and depressive disorders. If you experience chronic snoring, it might be worth seeking medical advice to help alleviate your symptoms.
While it’s true that extra sleep can be helpful to those recovering from illness, injury or other sleep loss, extra rest isn’t always helpful to your overall sleep quality. If you’re feeling fatigued, you may be inclined to nap, go to bed earlier or sleep in, but this can have some negative consequences to the quality of your sleep. By sleeping inconsistent durations, you may disrupt your sleep pattern and internal body clock, leading to increased sleep disruptions. This may cause you to experience reduced daytime alertness.
This is especially true for those that suffer from insomnia. Restricting time spent in bed is an effective treatment for insomnia.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep or experience periods of 20 minutes or more of restlessness during the night, you’re probably inclined to stay in bed out of determination to fall back asleep. Although counterintuitive, leaving your bed in these instances is more effective in combating sleeplessness. In fact, individuals with insomnia report significant sleep improvements in response to stimulus control therapy, which limits the amount of time spent in bed in an effort to retrain sleep patterns. Research suggests leaving your bed and engaging in a relaxing activity until you’re sleepy again. Try leaving your bed and reading or listening to relaxing music the next time you’re struggling to sleep.
Taking a moment in your day to rest your eyes can have a relaxing effect. However, some people opt to lay down in bed with their eyes closed at intervals throughout the day. Brain activity, however, differs greatly between waking and sleeping. During sleep, brain activity helps you recover cognitively and physiologically, so simply lying down with your eyes closed doesn’t accomplish the same kind of rest by any means. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleep or sex so that you don’t start to associate it with sleeplessness.
When you’re ready to relax for the evening, you might look to a glass of wine to help you wind down and get sleepy. However, alcohol has negative consequences for your sleep and overall health. Alcohol has an observable negative effect on sleep patterns, delaying the onset of REM sleep and increasing sleep disturbances. It is also associated with increased sleep apnea symptoms. Furthermore, nightly alcohol consumption may increase your risk of forming an addiction and other health issues.
Now that you know the facts, hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy a better night’s rest! Are there other common sleep myths you’ve heard about that just aren’t working for you? Let us know in the comments below.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.