Sleeping Myths: Fact or Fiction

Ever heard an old wives’ tale about how to get better sleep – or been told that counting sheep will help you fall asleep faster? There are a lot of myths out there about how to achieve the best night’s rest, but the real question is, are any of them true? As National Sleep Awareness Month comes to an end, let’s debunk some of these common misconceptions and separate fact from fiction. Here are 5 common sleeping myths that most of you have probably heard of – and thought to be true!

1. You can catch up on all your missed sleep on the weekends.

Life gets busy and we aren’t always able to get that perfect night’s rest, but does “making up for it” with a few extra hours on the weekend reverse the effects of the lack of sleep? Recent research has shown that one night of better sleep only helps you for as little as 6 hours after waking up. All that lack of sleep during the week adds up – this is called chronic sleep debt. As this debt builds, we miss out on necessary sleep, which can have harmful effects, causing slower reaction times and deteriorated performance. So next time you think about pulling an all-nighter for a school assignment or work, you might want to consider the long-lasting effects this might have on your body and make sure you get your sleep in.

2. Drinking alcohol will give you a better night’s sleep.

Although a glass of wine before bed often makes you feel sleepy and might help you fall asleep more quickly, it actually works against you as the night goes on. Initially, booze acts as a stimulant in your system, but as the buzz wears off, it becomes a sedative. This explains why you feel so tired at the end of a night out. Once you go to bed, your body metabolizes the alcohol and your sleep becomes lighter, making you more likely to wake up throughout the night. Alcohol also increases sleep disturbances, reduces the amount of REM sleep you get, and even makes you more likely to snore. So, if you’re looking for a better nights rest, a “nightcap” might not be the answer.

3. Everyone needs 8 hours of sleep.

We have always been told that getting 8 hours of sleep is the magic number to ensure that you are well rested. The truth is that nobody is the same and our sleep requirements change as we age. Although most adults need an average of 7 to 8 hours of rest a night, this is not true for everyone. So the question is, how much sleep do you really need? This is something everyone needs to find out for themselves but the most important thing is to make sleep a priority in your lifestyle. Assess your own individual sleep habits and see how daily diet, exercise, and relaxation time affect you day to day.

4. Exercise before bed helps you sleep.

Although exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, many people have come to believe that physical exertion will also help you achieve a good night’s sleep. The truth is that there is not one answer for everyone. One study found that the amount of time you sleep decreases when you exercise more while another found that it improves sleep quality. No matter what, exercise is good for you. But, it is up to you to figure out what time of day works best for them to achieve the best night’s rest possible.

5. The older you get the less sleep you need.

It is a common misconception that the older you get the less sleep you need. Although infants and toddlers do need a lot more rest than adults, as you get older changes in our sleep patterns are a part of the normal aging process. So what is keeping seniors awake and unable to sleep soundly? Throughout the night, sleep occurs in multiple stages, including periods of light and deep sleep that involve both passive and active dreaming (REM sleep). These cycles repeat multiple times while you sleep. It has been found that older people spend more time in the lighter phases of sleep than in deep sleep, explaining why they feel as though they haven’t gotten enough rest and are awake during the night. Research has also shown that a majority of the sleep disturbances that affect elderly people can be attributed to psychiatric and physical illnesses and the medications used to treat them.

6. Your brain rests during sleep.

When you think about sleep, you think about resting and recharging your body for the next day. The absence of consciousness that occurs during this downtime, when we relax our minds and bodies, is very much an active state. Although we remain still and inactive at night, sleep actually involves a highly-active and well-scripted interplay of brain circuits that result in the various stages of sleep. During REM sleep when active dreaming takes place, our delta brain waves increase. Sleep is a time when our endocrine system is able to increase the production of human growth hormone and prolactin, which are both vital for a healthy immune system. Dreaming also serves a vital purpose and allows our bodies and brains to consolidate long-term memories and even build neural connections. So next time you consider skipping out on sleep because you have things to do, think again!

7. Sleeping less keeps you thin.

It may not seem unreasonable to think that sleeping less will give you more time throughout your day to burn calories, exercise, and lead an active lifestyle. However, recent research has shown that cutting back on sleep actually has the opposite effect and can lead to weight issues. Lack of sleep greatly affects our bodies and even suppresses our natural appetite suppressants, increasing our appetite and leading to weight gain. It has also been found that people who are sleep deprived are much more likely to make poor dietary choices like when we’re feeling drowsy and grab fast food on the run. Furthermore, lack of sleep results in an inability for your metabolism to function properly, causing you to not burn calories properly throughout the day and may result in weight gain. So, if you’re looking to lose weight and keep your body healthy, getting a goods night rest may be the easiest solution.

8. Never wake someone who is sleepwalking.

We have long been told not to wake a sleepwalker for fear that this will cause such a shock that they may suffer from a heart attack or other medical ailment. Sleepwalking activities can range from simply wondering around to driving or using a computer. Discovering a family member or loved one in this state can be a bit scary, but much of our knowledge about sleepwalking is based on urban myths and what we have seen in movies. Although it may distress them, there is actually no documented evidence that waking a sleepwalker is detrimental to their health in any way. 

9. Natural sleep aids are risk-free.

Herbal sleep remedies, such as teas, are common choices for people who struggle with getting a good night’s rest. They are common alternatives for people who do not want to use prescribed sleeping pills. However, just because something is labeled natural and safe, it doesn’t mean there aren’t major health considerations to think about. For example, valerian root which was used as a sleep aid in ancient Greece has been found to cause dizziness and drowsiness in the mornings when taken in large doses. Similarly, kava kava, a traditional sedative from the Pacific Islands that has been marketed as a natural sleep aid, has been reported as a contributing factor to cases of liver and even kidney failure. This resulted in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning about the product. If you’re considering using a “natural” sleep aid to help you get a good night’s rest, make sure you do you research and consult a medical professional before trying it!

10. Early bird gets the worm! Morning people are more productive. 

Most people describe themselves as either a morning person or a night owl and we have long been told that early risers are more successful and productive. However, it has been proven that “night owls” can be just as energetic and creative as their counterparts because there is more to your sleep cycle than just when you wake up. It has even been found that late risers tire less quickly than those early risers. So, if you don’t feel like getting up, stay on that comfy mattress and listen to your body this National Sleep Awareness Month and the rest of the year!

So, are there any common sleep beliefs that are actually true? Thankfully, there’s one tried and true method to improve your sleep quality and energy levels. What is not a myth is the importance of the right mattress. A poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that 92 percent of people said that a comfortable mattress was crucial to a good night’s sleep. The wrong mattress that is too firm, soft, or simply too old can greatly affect the quality of sleep you are getting. The right mattress can decrease stress, help bodily pains from sleeping, and lead to overall better sleep. No need to break the bank on a new mattress to improve your sleep. Lull offers high quality premium mattresses delivered right to your door at an affordable price. With a 4.7 star rating and tens of thousands of reviews, there is no doubt that this reinvented, gel-infused, memory foam mattress will improve your sleep. Make your sleep a priority this National Sleep Awareness Month. Afterall, we do spend a third of our lives sleeping!