Think you know everything there is to know about sleep? Chances are you’ve probably heard - and believed - a few myths about sleep over the years. In fact, there’s a lot of misinformation about sleep circulating out there, so it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Let’s set the record straight with the truth behind common myths about sleep:
Myth: Your brain is completely at rest while you’re asleep.
Many people believe that they are completely at rest while they are asleep, but that’s not the case. Your body may be in a state of rest, but your brain is still active while you are asleep. In fact, the brain is hard at work controlling the functions that keep you alive while the rest of your body rests.
Myth: Watching TV at night can help you relax and fall asleep.
Your mind and body need to unwind at night so it is easier for you to fall asleep. For some people, unwinding means taking a hot bath or reading a book. But, many other people unwind by watching TV or browsing the web. If you’re in the latter group, it’s time to find a new relaxing activity to incorporate into your bedtime routine. Why? These relaxing activities could actually cause sleep disruptions and difficulties.
Exposure to light in any form at night can suppress the release of melatonin and throw off your body’s internal clock, making it harder to fall asleep. This is especially true of blue light, which suppresses melatonin for twice as long as other lights. Electronic devices such as televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones all emit blue light. Using these devices at night could prevent your body from releasing melatonin, which means it will be harder to fall and stay asleep. So, although watching your favorite TV show could take your mind off of your worries, it’s not a good way to unwind before bed.
Myth: Older adults do not need to sleep as much as younger adults.
It’s true that babies need more sleep than teens and teens need more sleep than adults. However, it is not true that older adults need less sleep than younger adults. The truth is that older adults tend to get fewer hours of sleep per night for a number of reasons, including health conditions and medications. But, they should still aim to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If something is keeping an older adult up at night, they should try to take naps throughout the day so they can log the recommended hours of sleep on a daily basis.
Myth: Counting sheep can make it easier to fall asleep.
Anyone who has ever had trouble falling asleep has probably been told to try counting sheep. But this is another common myth. In fact, researchers have found that counting sheep can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep.
A team of researchers at Oxford University concluded that counting sheep can extend the time it takes to fall asleep by an average of 20 minutes. No, really. It turns out that counting sheep is such a boring and repetitive activity that it does not occupy the mind enough to help with falling asleep. Instead, it can actually bore you and cause your mind to wander to other stressful thoughts. If you are ever struggling to fall asleep, it’s best to use melatonin instead of relying on counting sheep.
Myth: It doesn’t matter when you go to sleep as long as you’re sleeping.
Some people believe that the only thing that matters is the number of hours of sleep you get each night. It’s certainly true that this is important. But it’s not the only thing that can impact the quality of your sleep. Another factor that can affect your sleep is the consistency of your sleep schedule.
Your sleep schedule is controlled by your circadian rhythm, which you can think of as your body’s internal clock. It controls the release of melatonin, a key sleep-regulating hormone. If your sleep schedule varies day-to-day, it can throw off your internal clock and your ability to achieve quality ZZZs.
But, the internal clock cannot do its job unless you are on a consistent sleep schedule. If your sleep schedule varies from day-to-day, your body will not know when it’s appropriate to release melatonin. Your internal clock is capable of changing if you make adjustments to your sleep schedule, however it takes time to make these changes. So, if your sleep schedule is not consistent, the internal clock inside your body will never find its rhythm. This can affect your ability to fall asleep, the quality of your sleep, and the way you feel throughout the day.
Myth: You can catch up on lost sleep on the weekends.
It’s important to learn about the concept of sleep debt in order to understand why catching up on sleep is so difficult. Sleep debt is the difference between the number of hours a person needs and the number of hours they actually get. Sleep debt can continue to grow night after night if you are not getting enough sleep. Like all types of debt, sleep debt can be repaid. However, it will probably take more than a weekend to make up for the hours of sleep you’ve lost over the week. For example, if you’ve lost a total of 10 hours of sleep throughout the week, sleeping in an extra hour on Saturday and Sunday will not be enough to eliminate your sleep debt.
Now you finally know the truth about sleep! Don’t forget to use this information to improve your sleeping habits and the quality of your sleep. Sweet dreams!