Rest Easy By Correcting Popular Myths About Sleep

The average person spends about 26 years of their life sleeping. Sleep is crucial for health, as it can heal the heart, improve mood, and solidify your memory. However, many believe health myths that only harm their sleep.

If you hit the snooze button on her alarm, then you likely believe one of these myths. Snoring does not always stem from sleep apnea, and warm temperatures inhibit sleep. If these facts surprise you, then you’ll want to read these corrections to popular myths about sleep.

No, The Body Does Not Get Used To Having Little Sleep

A woman with a blanket wrapped around her tiredly holds up a mug of coffee.
Laura Chouette/Unsplash
Laura Chouette/Unsplash

Some people believe that if they continually sleep less than seven hours, their bodies will adjust. But that is a myth. In 2017, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh discovered that people can only do it if they take naps during the day. And even then, it won’t work for everyone.

In 2009, geneticists discovered that very few people can thrive on five hours of sleep. They are called the “sleepless elite,” and the skill is entirely genetic. If you try to get less sleep, you’ll suffer health consequences.

The Fruitless Attempts At Hitting Snooze

A sleepy man turns his alarm clock off.
Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Plenty of people have woken up to an alarm, hit snooze, and returned to sleep for an extra 15 minutes. Although this seems helpful in the moment, it actually harms you. Dr. Reena Mehra, the Director of Sleep Disorders Research at Cleveland Clinic, says that hitting snooze disrupts REM sleep.

Adding another five or ten minutes of sleep will not put you back into REM. If you really want to feel more rested, you need REM. Flipping from sleeping and waking will make you feel more tired throughout the day. You might as well just get up!

More Sleep Isn’t Always Better

A couple sleeps together on a beach.
Jenny Evans/Getty Images
Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Health experts recommend getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. That means more is better, right? Wrong. “[Oversleeping] is a sign that you may be sleeping ineffectively,” explains Dr. Carl Bazil, the director of the sleep and epilepsy division at Columbia University.

Because oversleepers tend to have worse sleep, their health risks are the same as people who undersleep. According to a 2015 study in Neurology, 46% of oversleepers have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Instead of aiming for more sleep, work towards better quality sleep.

Snoring Isn’t Always Harmful

A man snores while sleeping beside his wife.
Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Lammel/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Some people assume that if they snore, they should get checked for sleep apnea. But snoring is not always indicative of a disorder. Snoring occurs when the airway is blocked or obstructed, but it could have many causes, says the National Sleep Foundation.

Common colds, allergies, alcohol, or obesity are common causes of snoring. While only 9% of adults have sleep apnea, 57% of men and 40% of women snore. However, if your snoring is waking you or others, you might want to see a doctor.

Sleeping In On The Weekends Will Not “Make Up” For Lost Rest

A woman wakes up slowly while lying in bed.
Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash
Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash

Many people get little sleep during weekdays and “make up” lost sleep on weekends. This myth is partially true. Primary care physician Dr. Chuck Smith says that weekends can make up for a couple of hours of lost sleep; however, you will not fully recover from the week.

In 2019, scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder tested this sleep myth. When participants “made up” for sleep on weekends, they had worse insulin sensitivity and brain health. In other words, the health effects are the same as someone who sleeps too little. Focus on getting enough sleep on the weekdays.

Aging Does Not Make People Sleep More

A senior man naps on his couch.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to a common health myth, adults tend to sleep more as they age. But researchers have determined that the opposite is true. The U.S. Library of Medicine explains that most older adults have a harder time falling asleep. Their average sleep duration shortens from seven hours to 6.5 hours.

Older adults have a higher risk of sleep disorders, muscle pain, and chronic illnesses that might keep them up at night. Regardless of your age, sleep habits change over time. You don’t have to be of a certain age to sleep well.

Yes, Teenagers Tend To Be Night Owls

A teenage boy stays up late at night to watch a TV series on his laptop.
PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

If a teenager stays awake later than you, don’t fret. It’s normal for teens to fall asleep later than adults. In 2012, scientists discovered that teenagers have delayed melatonin production. Because of this, it could take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours for teenagers to feel drowsy.

Since teenagers have more raging hormones than adults, their circadian rhythm changes. And because they don’t feel tired at night, they are more likely to spend time on the TV or computer, which keeps them awake even later.

People Sleep Better In Cooler Temperatures

A thermometer sits in the snow.
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Some people believe that the warmer they are at night, the better they’ll sleep. But science has found the opposite. In 2017, researchers from the University of South Australia discovered that most people sleep better in 54 degrees Fahrenheit than 70 degrees.

According to the study, warm temperatures prevent the body from producing melatonin. Cold temperatures help your body release more calming hormones, and they can even prevent sleep disorders. The ideal temperature ranges between 60 and 67 degrees–with a warm comforter or blanket, of course.

Even A Six-Minute Nap Can Help

A man naps on his couch.
Adi Goldstein/Unsplash
Adi Goldstein/Unsplash

Despite feeling tired, some people will not nap because they “don’t have enough time.” But did you know that even a six-minute nap can help? In 2008, German researchers discovered that six-minute naps improved peoples’ alertness and long-term memory.

Naps can help, depending on the amount of time that you allow yourself. Sleep expert Michael Breus recommends naps that last 25 minutes or one hour. Ninety-minute naps also allow you to go through an entire sleep cycle, according to WebMD. If you’re drowsy, try a short nap and see how you feel.

Why People Can’t Become Nocturnal

A tired man plays video games late at night with snacks.
Philip Sowels/Future via Getty Images
Philip Sowels/Future via Getty Images

Bad news for night owls: the body does not want to sleep at any hour of the day. The head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at Berkeley, Dr. Matt Walker, says that the body gets the best REM sleep at night. Specifically, it is between 8:00 pm and 12:00 am.

Contrary to what some people believe, we cannot (or rather, should not) become nocturnal. According to the National Sleep Foundation, your quality of sleep drops if you keep the lights on. That’s why many people don’t rest well during the day.

Moving At Night Does Not Inhibit Sleep

A messy, unmade bed is seen in a hotel.
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A common sleep myth says that, when you toss and turn at night, your sleep quality drops. But this is not necessarily true. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, it is normal to have a bit of movement during sleep.

That said, chronic restlessness could be a symptom of a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea, stress, or restless leg syndrome could make you move more often. It could also be the result of an uncomfortable sleeping positive or too much light in the room. But if you sleep well, don’t worry about movement.

Sleeplessness Has The Same Effect As Being Drunk

A tired nurse rubs her temples while sitting on her night shift.

If you’re considering pulling an all-nighter before a test, don’t. Contrary to popular belief, the brain does not act the same on little sleep. During a 2009 study, Oxford researchers discovered that a lack of sleep has the same effects on the brain as being drunk.

Your brain works on memory and cognitive function during sleep. If you don’t get it, you’ll have worse memory, less alertness, and even poor heart function. According to the researchers, participants who went 17 hours without sleep had the same symptoms as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%.

Your Brain Remains Active Throughout The Night

A diagram shows a brain lighting up with activity.

It’s easy to think that your brain “turns off” while you sleep. But according to John Hopkins Medicine, your brain remains active, especially during REM. Sleep expert and neurologist Mark Wu explains that this brain activity can actually improve our quality of life.

During sleep, the brain repairs many bodily functions. It repairs neurons, removes toxins from the skin, and strengthens the immune system. For at least two hours of REM sleep, the brain also processes information and commits some facts to memory. It is hard at work!

If You Can Fall Asleep Anywhere, Beware

A man takes a nap while waiting at an airport.
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

According to one sleep myth, people who can fall asleep anywhere are “good sleepers.” Not only is this untrue, but it can also be dangerous. Neurologist and sleep medicine specialist Brandon Peters says that this could be a sign of sleep deprivation.

“If we don’t get enough hours of sleep to meet our sleep needs, we will fall asleep faster,” Dr. Peters told SELF. In the worst-case scenario, people who fall asleep anywhere might have narcolepsy. This sleep disorder causes excessive drowsiness throughout the day. If this sounds like you, talk to a doctor.

Teenagers Require More Sleep Than Adults

Two teenagers sit on brick steps while the third takes a nap.
Maria Teneva/Unsplash
Maria Teneva/Unsplash

According to the CDC, 72% of American high school students get less sleep than they need. Why is this? Well, teenagers require more sleep than adults. This is due to their rapidly growing bodies, busy school schedules, and active social lives.

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, say that anyone between the ages of ten and 25 might need more sleep. Hence, it’s normal for a teen to get between eight and ten hours of sleep per night, explains the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

If You Can’t Sleep, Don’t Stay In Your Bed

At night, a man lies awake in bed.
Ashkan Forouzani/Unsplash
Ashkan Forouzani/Unsplash

Sometimes, people lay in bed and realize that they can’t sleep. What do you do then? Experts agree that you should not stay in bed. “If you are unable to fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, get out of bed and go to another room,” advises sleep expert Dr. Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong Jr.

Laying in bed might increase your anxiety, which will only keep you awake. Instead, get up and perform a calming activity. Read, take a bath, or drink a warm glass of milk. When you feel sleepy, get back in bed.

Dreams Can Occur During Any Sleep Stage

A black-and-white drawing portrays someone dreaming while sleeping.

REM (rapid eye movement) is the deepest part of sleep, when the brain becomes the most active. Because of this, many people assume that dreams occur during REM. But people can dream during any stage of sleep.

That said, sleep stages can determine what kind of dreams you have, according to the National Sleep Foundation. REM dreams tend to be more vivid and fantastical, while non-REM dreams tend to be more coherent. Most people have three to five dreams every night, but they do not remember most of them.

Drinking Does Not Improve Sleep

Sinitta Leunen/Unsplash
Sinitta Leunen/Unsplash

Since wine is a depressant, many people drink it before bed to help them sleep better. But alcohol does not improve sleep. In fact, a review of 27 studies Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research concluded that drinking actually harms sleep.

Although alcohol makes you drowsy, it reduces REM sleep. This leads to more sleep disruptions, especially in the second half of the night. You might wake up at night, toss and turn, snore, or have disruptive dreams if you drink before bed. Cut off all drinks at least a few hours before bedtime.

Never Sleep With The Light On

A bedside table lamp is on at night.
Haley Truong/Unsplash
Haley Truong/Unsplash

Never keep your lights on overnight. While you can sleep in light, it’s not good for you. According to research in JAMA Internal Medicine, light makes your sleep much less restful. It is even associated with weight gain.

The body’s circadian rhythm relies on darkness to signal when you should go to sleep. If you don’t have that darkness, your body will produce fewer sleep hormones. Even outside lights can worsen your rest, according to a 2016 study in the journal Sleep. Go to bed in total darkness if you can.

Phones And Laptops Will Not Help You Fall Asleep

A woman uses her iPhone under the covers at night.
Getty Images
Taro Karibe/Getty Images

Many people try to fall asleep by using their phones or laptop, but this is a mistake. Blue wavelengths, the light that emanates from digital screens, has a unique effect on sleep. In July 2020, a Harvard study found that blue light prevents the secretion of sleep hormones. It literally disrupts your biological clock.

Some people use tinted glasses to block the blue wavelengths. A 2009 study on amber glasses found that they improved peoples’ sleep. However, you might be better off reading, writing, or listening to music before bed.