Researchers from NYU School of Medicine were curious about how common sleep myths might be affecting your zzz’s. So, they reviewed more than 8,000 websites to identify the 20 most common sleep myths. The hitch is that all of them are based on scientific evidence.
A number of factors affect sleep, including genetics and various medical issues, but a good night's sleep is essential for overall health. They hope that dispelling some of these sleep myths will lead to healthier sleep habits for more people. They put together a team of sleep experts to rank these myths on how true (or false) they are and how harmful they could be to your health.
Here’s a look at what they found.
Sleep Myth 1: You Only Need Five Hours of Sleep
NYU researchers say this is the most significant sleep myth affecting people.
If you’re wondering how much sleep you should actually be getting, here are the National Sleep Foundation Scientific Advisory Council’s latest recommendations:
- School-age children (ages 6 to 13): Sleep range widened by one hour to nine to 11 hours
- Teenagers (ages 14 to 17): Sleep range widened by one hour to eight to 10 hours
- Adults (ages 26 to 64+): Sleep range did not change and remains seven to nine hours
The bottom line is that adults ages 18+ should sleep at least seven hours per night for optimal health and wellness.
Sleep Myth 2: Snoring Is Harmless
Chronic snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea. This is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It can make getting healthy sleep impossible.
And sleep deprivation in any capacity is bad for your body. In the short term, it can cause you to be groggy during the day, but if your sleep apnea is not treated, you can increase your risk for a number of long-term health issues, including:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
- Liver problems
Feeling tired is not something you should “just deal with” because it’s unhealthy.
Sleep Myth 3: Alcohol Helps You Sleep
While folklore suggests that a nightcap brings on sweet slumber, alcohol before bed can actually have a negative impact on sleep.
Multiple studies show that alcohol does not improve sleep quality. According to the findings, alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, but it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Alcohol consumption may also worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Sleep Myth 4: Bedtime Doesn’t Matter
If you have kids, you know how important a consistent bedtime routine is. The same goes for adults. And when you get that sleep matters, too.
Studies show night shift workers whose circadian rhythms are disrupted report less sleep and lower sleep quality than daytime workers.
Night shift workers are also at a higher risk for the same long-term health issues we mentioned earlier, but researchers acknowledge that getting sleep during the day is better than no sleep at all.
Sleep Myth 5: You Don’t Need Sleep To Function
While you may think you can learn to adapt to getting less sleep, the researchers at NYU found this to be false. Studies show that even after weeks of tracking, reduced sleep leads to decreased daytime performance.
The researchers again point to night shift workers, who are up in the middle of the night and trying to sleep during the day. They typically sleep less than those with daytime schedules.
Sleep Myth 6: It’s OK To Hit Snooze
Researchers say disturbing sleep is "not optimal" because it can negatively impact your mood and cognition. A snooze session doesn’t last long enough to let you finish a complete sleep cycle.
Instead of hitting snooze, try doing things like:
- Focusing on the reason you want to wake up earlier. Let it be your motivation to get up.
- Moving your alarm clock across the room. This forces you to get up.
- Get an alarm clock that gets brighter as it sounds the alarm. This simulated sunrise will naturally stimulate your body to wake up.
Or you can try to go to bed earlier.
Sleep Myth 7: Trouble Falling Asleep? Stay in Bed
Stop counting sheep. Researchers with the National Sleep Foundation say lying in bed awake can create an unhealthy link between your sleeping environment and wakefulness. Their experts recommend getting out of bed and return only when you are tired because you want your bed to conjure sleepy thoughts and feelings only.
They say if you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and go to another spot in your house to do a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music.
It is also important to do things like:
- Carve out about 30 minutes of wind-down time
- Avoid blue light from electronics
- Try breathing or relaxation techniques before bed
You can even listen to a podcast or meditate and then return to bed.
The navy actually trains members to fall asleep sitting up. It starts by settling in, dropping your shoulders as low as possible and letting your neck go limp. Then allow that feeling to travel down your entire body.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, our guide “10 Tips for Better Sleep” can help. Good sleep may be easier to achieve than you think.