Many of us believe that we can function just fine on about 5-6 hours of sleep or by “catching up” on lost hours of sleep. Sleep can sometimes feel like a waste of time in our very busy lives. If we can lengthen the day by getting less sleep, doesn’t that make us more productive?
The truth is, not getting enough sleep at night can do a lot of harm - and a lot of Americans are not getting enough.
There is a lot of mixed information out there about sleep, how much we need, and what actual healthy sleep habits look like. Sleep researchers have done a lot of studies about how we spend approximately one third of our lives, and they’re helping us bust some myths about sleep and how important it is.
Top 10 Sleep Myths - Busted!
You only need 5 hours of sleep a night.
Wake up and smell the coffee! Although you may want to believe that 5 hours of sleep is enough, humans have evolved to function best after sleeping between 7-10 hours a night. Any less than that greatly increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, weakened immune system, weight gain, depression, diabetes, and other health issues.
Your body can adjust to getting less sleep every night.
Due to the natural phases of sleep our brains and bodies must go through each night, we need enough time to move through those processes. A full night of good sleep will give you enough time to repeat multiple cycles through the different phases of sleep, which are vital to neuron generation (brain cells), repairing muscles, and building up the immune system. If you go through fewer of these cycles, you will have less time to regenerate and repair. Your body doesn’t adjust to less sleep, it just gets cut short.
If you can catch a nap, you can make up for “lost sleep.”
Sleepiness during the day means that you have a large reserve of adenosine (the chemical that builds up throughout the day as you get closer to sleep). This chemical naturally lowers throughout the night as you sleep, so that you can wake up easily in the morning. If you feel drowsy during the day, your body is trying to dispose of that extra adenosine - which means when you get back around to a normal sleep time you’ll have difficulty falling asleep and the issue will begin again.
Snoring is not harmful, it’s just noisy.
Not only is it detrimental to the sleep of your partner (and anyone within earshot), but snoring causes pauses in breathing - a warning sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder that is linked to increased risk of heart attacks, asthma, glaucoma, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and behavioral disorders. If concerned about how snoring might be disrupting your sleep, talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you should just lay in bed until you fall asleep.
If you have been tossing and turning for more than 15 minutes, it is better to just get up and do some kind of low-energy activity (like reading, folding laundry, or journaling). Just laying there is akin to going to the gym and just standing on the treadmill - it doesn’t do you any good if you aren’t doing anything. If you aren’t moving you aren’t getting exercise, and if you simply have your eyes closed you aren’t getting the benefits of actual sleep.
It doesn’t matter when you sleep, just as long as you sleep.
Actually, time of day does matter - a lot. Studies of people that work night shifts outside of a normal biological rhythm showed an increased risk of all kinds of diseases and health issues, let alone slower reaction time at work and more injuries. Our biological rhythm is what controls hormone production, body temperature, digestion function, and other natural cycles.
Alcohol helps with falling and staying asleep at night.
Sure, having a stiff drink before bed might knock you out at first, but alcohol only disrupts sleep from there on out! As your body processes alcohol, it causes energy spikes that disrupt deep stages of sleep causing you to wake up feeling groggy and unrested.
Watching TV or scrolling apps will help you to wind down before sleep.
Unfortunately, the blue light that is emitted by smartphones and other screens is actually the opposite of relaxing. Since blue night disrupts the sleep hormone (melatonin), it will take you more time to fall asleep, which just subtracts hours from your already precious sleep schedule. Get into the habit of turning off smartphones, tablets, and TVs at least 2-hours prior to bedtime.
Snoozing is cool.
Not for a healthy sleep cycle! If you’re always hitting the snooze button, you’re just allowing your body to fall back into a lighter, lower quality of sleep. Each time you hit snooze you start the sleep cycle over, and each time the alarm goes off after that you’ll be awakened from the middle of it (leaving you groggier for longer). So turn off that alarm and get out of bed!
If you remember your dreams you’ve slept soundly.
We cycle through a number of dreams every night, so if we don’t remember them it just means that our sleep has not been interrupted. People that remember their dreams tend to wake up more often throughout the night, and are more sensitive to sounds - resulting in a lower quality of sleep overall.
Getting plenty of good quality sleep every night should be as much of a priority as making other healthy choices in our lives. We have great tips for natural ways to help with falling asleep, and tips for ensuring you’re getting the best rest possible each and every night.
[Credit: LaMotte, Sandee. “Wake up, people: You're fooling yourself about sleep, study says.” CNN.]
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