We all know sleep is important. Sleep helps your body and brain rest and recover, keeps your mood under control, and prepares you for the day ahead. What we may not know is the truth behind some of the most common sleep myths out there. Knowing the difference between these myths and reality is crucial in order to get the good night’s rest you deserve.
It’s possible to catch up on missed sleep over the weekend.
This is a big one, especially in the busy chaotic world we live in. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night on average. Skipping an hour or two a night may not seem like much, but that missed sleep adds up to something called “sleep debt”. If you miss one hour of sleep each night in a week, that adds up to five hours’ debt by Friday night. Sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday mornings may seem like a good way to pay it off, but those extra hours throw off your snooze schedule even further. By the time Sunday night rolls around again, you’ll find it harder to fall asleep than the week before!
Plus, the interest on this debt is killer. Your sleep shortage during the week slows your reaction time, making driving much more dangerous. In fact, sleep shortage is to blame for roughly 100,000 traffic accidents, 76,000 injuries, and 1,500 deaths a year.
Any debt has to be repaid, and the best way to clear a sleep debt is slowly and steadily. Stick to a regular sleep/wake schedule (yes, even on weekends), try going to bed even just 15 minutes earlier each night, and, if possible, a daytime nap may help you pay off that debt. But, as with any debt, the best way to deal with it is to avoid adding to it at all.
Daytime naps are good for your sleep schedule.
A daytime nap may be good for helping catch up on lost sleep or ditching drowsiness before driving long distances, but there is such a thing as “too much”. Long naps in the middle of the day disrupt your body’s usual sleep/wake rhythm. This can make it even harder to fall asleep at night, which can add to your sleep debt. Try limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes, and make sure to leave at least four hours between your nap and bedtime.
Exercising in the evening helps you sleep better.
While exercise does help you sleep better, exercising too close to bedtime can keep you wired when it’s time to turn in. To make sure you’re settled down by bedtime, it’s best to work out in the morning or afternoon. Morning workouts have been linked to longer, deeper sleep and more time spent in reparative stages of sleep. If morning workouts aren’t your thing, take advantage of the slight increase in your body temperature throughout the day to help your muscles work more efficiently during an afternoon workout. Aerobic afternoon workouts in particular can help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep through the night. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, be sure to leave four to six hours between your workout and your pillow.
Watching TV and/or using your laptop in bed helps you relax.
Although it might be relaxing to chill out with a TV show or your favorite internet site, screen time can interfere with signals that tell your brain to prepare for sleep. Exciting (or stressful) content may hype you up, and the “blue light” emitted from your screens mimics daytime sunlight – tricking your brain into thinking it’s time to be awake. Doing these activities in bed can further confuse your brain into thinking that your bed is a place to stay awake rather than fall asleep. Try to keep the laptop and TV out of the bedroom and turned off in the 30-60 minutes before bedtime (we know it can be hard!). Instead, fill that time with a relaxing bedtime routine to help your brain power down too.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in bed, count sheep, or toss and turn until you eventually fall back asleep.
Insomnia is not just having trouble falling asleep; it can also be waking up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep. Some research suggests that the classic counting sheep may actually be more distracting than relaxing. Other relaxing imagery or thoughts may help, but if you can’t fall asleep within 15-20 minutes, it’s best not to stress yourself out by watching the clock or tossing and turning. Instead, try getting out of bed and doing a relaxing activity in another room (such as listening to music or reading). When you feel sleepy, go back to bed and try to catch those elusive Zzz’s again.
Sleep is important in maintaining many aspects of our health, but there are many myths that can spread confusing information on the best sleep practices. By making sure we stick to the truths about sleep habits, we can be sure that we’re getting the best rest possible for our bodies.