Getting enough good-quality sleep is one of the most important things that you can do for your health. Sleep is essential for brain and memory health; maintaining a healthy weight; and contributes to your mood and ability to be productive.
Since we all need sleep and have been doing it since we were babies (literally), it’s often something that we take for granted. Often, the little we do know about sleep isn’t even true! Have you been falling for any of these sleep myths?
1. We all need 8 hours of sleep every night.
Most adults do need seven to eight hours of sleep each night, but our sleep needs change throughout our lives. Teenagers actually do need more sleep than the average adult, and older adults tend to sleep less as they age.
Sleep needs are also very individual – we all have a specific amount of sleep that works best for us. This is partially determined by genetics. Physical activity and diet may also play a role. You may find that you need eight and a half hours of sleep, or that your energy levels are optimal after just seven hours. However, keep in mind that only 3% of the population has a gene that enables them to sleep six hours or less per night.
2. You can make up for lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekends.
So, what happens if you don’t get the amount of sleep that’s right for you? If you miss some sleep but make a point of catching up the following night, your body can usually cope with the sleep loss. However, if you continually miss sleep, it gets harder and harder to make it up. If you consistently shave an hour or two off of your required amount throughout the week, sleeping in on the weekend will not help. In fact, sleeping in can contribute to missed sleep later by disrupting your natural sleep-wake cycle.
3. Your brain rests while you sleep.
Your brain does so much more than rest while you sleep, which is why good sleep is so important! During sleep, the brain goes through a cleaning routine. It cleanses out toxic proteins that may contribute to dementia, and it organizes memories and stores knowledge. Without adequate sleep our ability to sort and prioritize information becomes compromised. Sleep really does make you smarter!
4. Taking a nap during the day will make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
This one is only partially true and depends on the length and timing of your daytime nap. Sleeping logically reduces the feeling of being sleepy, so if you take a long nap late in the afternoon, you may find that you’re not tired at your usual bedtime. However, shorter naps of fifteen to twenty minutes in the early afternoon can actually help! Most adults will feel sleepy due to a natural dip in the Circadian rhythm between 1 and 3 pm. Indulging in a short nap during this time will leave you refreshed for the rest of the afternoon without interfering with your bedtime.
5. Exercising in the evening can help you get tired enough to fall asleep.
Regular exercise does improve sleep quality, but exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with falling asleep. This is because when we fall asleep, our body temperature lowers. Exercise, on the other hand, elevates your body temperature and can make it difficult to drift off.
Quick tips for better sleep
1. Wake up at the same time every day.
Sleep is a function of the Circadian rhythm – in order to feel sleepy at night our bodies need to produce melatonin at the right time, and in order to wake up in the morning, our bodies need to make cortisol. By waking up at the same time every morning, we make it easier for our bodies to create these chemical signals at the correct time. If you love to sleep in on the weekends, try just giving yourself an extra hour and see if that leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to go in the mornings throughout the week.
2. Lower the temperature at night for better sleep.
As mentioned above, our body temperature drops while we sleep, and studies show that we sleep better in a cooler environments. Lower your thermostat about an hour before you get into bed. You want the room to be cool enough that you feel comfortable under a cozy blanket, but not so cold that you’re shivering!
3. Develop a bedtime routine.
Winding down after a busy day is often the most challenging part of falling asleep. As best you can, minimize watching TV late at night and using your phone or other devices that emit light. The light from these screens interferes with the production of melatonin, which as mentioned above is important for creating that sleepy feeling. You may also want to start dimming the lights about an hour before bed for the same reason. Incorporate other activities into a pre-bedtime routine, such as a bath, reading, or a few minutes of deep breathing. The goal is to pick things that help you feel calmer and allow you to let go of the day. If you do these things consistently, you’ll program your mind to know that sleep is just around the corner when you begin your bedtime routine.
Sleep is a very important part of our lives. If you don’t get enough sleep it can be bad for your health. By understanding the myths and some ways to get better sleep, you’ll be thankful overall. So are you ready to get some shuteye.
Nicky Ellis is an editor at We Sleep Well. She lives in London and loves writing about beds, mattresses, and all sleep related things. She is a mum of three who spends all her free time with her family, friends or just sipping her favourite cuppa of Earl Grey.