Sleep Myths Busted
When it comes to sleep, many of us are living in a dream world. Even when science points in the opposite direction, it seems that half-truths and straight-up fiction dominate our thinking.
Consider this your wake-up call.
The cold, hard facts about sweet, blissful rest
MYTH #1: It’s possible to “catch up on your sleep.”
You’re probably familiar with sleep debt: Shorthand for the difference between the amount of sleep you get each night and the amount you actually need.
Any number of factors can cause you to shortchange sleep in given week. But will a marathon snooze session or two (say, on Saturday and Sunday) make you debt-free and fabulously well-rested? Sorry to break the news, but no. Just no.
MYTH #2: A drink before bed will help you sleep.
As you may have discovered, the opposite is more likely true. Alcohol may initially cause a feeling of sleepiness, and even help you drift off, but as for facilitating a full night of restorative sleep, the odds are against it.
It’s true that some people can quaff a cocktail near bedtime and be none the worse, sleep-wise. But mounting evidence says that a pre-bedtime beer, wine or Moscow Mule will actually interfere with your sleep—by causing you to wake during the night or by inhibiting deeper sleep phases critical to daytime function
MYTH #3: Napping makes it harder to fall asleep.
This one merits a “Yes and No” answer. There are copious studies that suggest you’re better off grabbing a quick (under 30 minutes) midday nap than, say, downing a double espresso. But there are some key variables. Though individual results vary, there generally exists a “cutoff time” after which napping’s a bad idea. And no matter when naps occur, there are nap lengths that are okay and those that are excessive, and will interfere with nighttime sleep.
Interesting aside: Studies with mice in this area have been inconclusive, as many researchers have difficulty convincing the mice to take a break from their busy rodential schedules and kick back on this cute little mouse-sized divan right here for a little afternoon snooze.
MYTH #4: If you can’t sleep, count sheep.
The persistence of this myth is astounding. It’s as if the sheep of the world have cleverly contracted with a P.R. firm in order to swell their numbers by spreading stories of some magical sleep-inducing ability.
The truth of the matter, as reported in the New York Times, is that picturing relaxing images performs much better than counting sheep or other monotonous tasks as a method for falling asleep.
Sorry, Global Sheep P.R. Firm. We’re on to you.
MYTH #5: Some people can get by on a few hours’ sleep.
There’s a little truth to this one as well—but not much. There is actually a gene (known as ABCC9), the presence of which correlates with a need for considerably less sleep. But the incidence of this is rare—under 3% of the population.
For the vast majority of us, evidence suggests that seven to nine hours of sleep per night are required. If you’re not consistently getting that amount (and you’re not one of the genetic outliers mentioned above), it could be time for a change.