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Debunking 5 Myths About Sleep

Jun 1 2021
5 min read
Dark-haired woman laying on bed with eyes closed smiling.

There is no debate among experts when it comes to the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Yet some well-intentioned habits may be disrupting your body’s ability to settle down and rest. Here are some facts that may help you make better choices:

Getting Older Doesn't Mean That You Need Less Sleep.

You may have found it easier to sleep when you were younger. As years pass, your body produces less melatonin, the hormone that helps set your circadian rhythm into snooze mode. Exposure to small amounts of light, such as alarm clocks, smart phones, and other devices, may offset that pattern. Pain from arthritis or another health issue may disrupt sleep as well. And stressors many adults have, such as thoughts of family responsibilities or financial concerns, may keep your mind racing, and amp up anxiety. Despite what you think you can “get by” on, most adults need seven to nine hours of nightly rest for optimal health — regardless of age. For many people, a helpful sign that you’re getting enough sleep is when you don’t need an alarm to wake up, and when you do wake up, you feel rested, refreshed, and energetic throughout the day. Instead of accepting the five or six hours of sleep that you manage to clock, work to identify the cause of your lack of sleep and address it. Naps can help you supplement your total sleep time, if necessary.

Just Because You Can Get By On Less Sleep, Doesn't Mean You Should.

Sure, you may make it through the day on a few hours of rest, but how well? Sleep deprivation makes it harder to pay attention, solve problems, make sound judgments, and commit things to memory. It can zap your energy, contribute to moodiness, and even increase your risk of an accident. Not to be forgotten, a lack of sleep may even increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes. Plus, research shows that less snooze time raises ghrelin levels—a hormone that stimulates your appetite—and can increase your insulin resistance. “Getting by” suddenly doesn’t seem like quite enough when you consider that you may be jeopardizing your performance, relationships, happiness, safety, and longevity in the process.

A Good Night's Sleep is Important – Just Stop Stressing About it.

A key finding about those who sleep well is that they don’t worry when occasionally waking up. The more anxious you get about falling or staying asleep, the harder it can be to settle your body and mind in order to nod off. While you may need to get up to urinate, try keeping lights and sounds to a minimum so you can return to sleep easily. Other tips for a good night’s rest include: replacing a lumpy mattress, avoiding caffeinated or alcoholic beverages before bedtime, and dimming lights in your house for a few hours before bed. You may also want to keep a sleep journal to tease out just what might be getting in the way of solid rest: Write down the times you lie down and rise, as well as how many times you wake up at night, what your day was like, and how rested you feel in the morning. (Do your journaling in the morning, not in the middle of the night.) Patterns may emerge: You may have the most interruptions when you’ve let your back pain go unmanaged, for example. If small tweaks don’t help, see your doctor — a treatable sleep disorder or other health issue may be afoot. Sometimes, though, just shifting your focus toward allowing yourself to relax, instead of actively trying to fall asleep, is enough to get you the rest you need.

Staying in Bed Won't Help You Nod Off.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, you may start to associate your bed with sleep trouble. If you haven’t drifted off in 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something peaceful and relaxing, such as reading with a soft light, gentle yoga, meditation, or mindful breathing. Avoid exposure to bright or intense lights, like computer monitors and TVs, which can activate the brain. When you begin to feel drowsy, head back to bed.

When You Exercise Matters.

It’s true that a workout may make it easy to melt into your mattress, but like many things in life, timing is key. In fact, Oregon State University researchers found that people who exercise 150 minutes a week improve their quality of sleep by 65 percent. But activity also raises your body temperature, which can take as long as six hours to return to normal. Because your body finds it easier to fall asleep when it’s cooler, it may be wise to exercise at least three hours before you turn in. Or try some calming yoga postures before bed, like Child’s Pose or Reclining Butterfly.