When it comes to sleep, people don’t often give it much thought. Sure, most of us try to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and we’ve pretty much all heard that eight hours is best, but we don’t give too much thought to other habits or situations that may affect our ability to sleep. In fact, in many cases, we’re misinformed about what is helping (or hurting) our chances of that elusive good night’s sleep. If you’re interested in doing the best for your health and your sleep, consider these sleep myths- and what you should be doing instead.
9. Does Alcohol Help Sleep?
While it’s true that alcohol can help put you to sleep, downing a glass of wine or two before bed is not as beneficial as you might expect. When it comes to sleep, quality is just as important than quantity, if not more so. Alcohol, which happens to be a key ingredient in sleep aids, has a nasty side effect in that it keeps your body from producing melatonin. Melatonin is necessary for a good night’s sleep. There are other sleep aids that work against you as well. Alcohol hampers REM cycles and dreaming, ultimately leading to restless sleep.
8. What about Caffeine?
It’s common knowledge that caffeine can help you wake up in the morning and keep you moving throughout the day. However, too much caffeine at the wrong time can make getting to bed difficult. It takes the body several hours to burn off the effects of caffeine, which means even taking it in the afternoon (2-3 pm) can cause problems. If you absolutely have to have your caffeine fix, small doses throughout the day are better than large doses all at once- and still, try to refrain from drinking anywhere near bedtime. This advice goes for both caffeine and coffee.
7. You can always catch up on sleep later, right?
The saying ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ may be eerily truer than you might think. Chronic sleep loss is a real thing, a problem that cannot be resolved as easily as sleeping late on some nights to make up for less sleep on others. Basically, each late-night contributes to a growing amount of sleep you’ve lost that can end up leading to harmful symptoms resulting from a lack of sleep. One study, in particular, suggests you can never fully recover, no matter how much you sleep. Essentially this means that some effects of sleep deprivation are unfortunately permanent.
6. Snacking Before Bed?
While heavy meals, especially those with carbs, may make you full and sleepy, they are not without consequences. Carbohydrates increase tryptophan, which raises the body’s sleep-inducing serotonin levels. However, much like alcohol consumption, while a meal heavy in carbs may get you to sleep, the quality of that sleep will be diminished. Protein can also help you get to sleep, so the ideal sleep-inducing meal will have a combination of carbs and protein- but it should also be no more than a light snack, eaten hours before bed. You should also skip other eating habits that ruin your sleep.
5. How Bad is it that I Snore?
While many may associate snoring with sleep as something that’s normal or natural, the truth is that is not always the case. Sometimes snoring is actually one symptom of a serious problem, most notably, obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. This basically means that airways suffer blockage when one is sleeping, which leads to constantly interrupted sleep as your body wakes you to ensure you get enough oxygen. This, in turn, leads one to significantly poorer sleep quality. If that isn’t bad enough, there are other side effects of OSA, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and obesity.
4. Does Everyone Need Eight Hours a Night?
Eight hours is a good average number, but generally speaking, infants and younger children tend to get more, while the elderly often get less. According to research produced by the National Sleep Foundation, seven to nine hours of sleep is the recommended amount for the average adults (hence the focus on eight). In this case, it’s important to listen to your body to determine if you need more or less sleep: feeling overly sluggish can be a sign or both too much or too little, so it’s best to start with eight hours and move up or down from there.Related: Here’s How Much Sleep You Need According to Your Age
3. Go to bed earlier for better sleep.
Establishing a sleep routine can certainly help you get to sleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep. However, doing so is as much about timing as it is about habits. Going to bed earlier is not going to help you get to sleep if you are not changing other aspects of the process, and this can end up working against you in the long run. Instead of focusing on when you go to bed, concentrate on preparing your body for sleep by timing meals and exercises. Immediately before bed, eliminate distractions, such as bright lights or loud noises.
2. A Warm Room Will Help You Sleep, Right?
Typically, when we sleep, we think of being warm and cozy. While it is true that most of us wrap up in blankets at bedtime, it is not warmth which helps us to get sleep. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleep is somewhere between 54 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to a cooler room, a clever way to help your body prep for sleep is to take a warm shower just before bed to raise your temperature. The comparatively cool room will then help you to drift off to sleep much easier.Related: Soothing Plants for More Oxygen and Better Sleep
1. Medication is the Only Answer for Insomnia.
While medication helps for some, there is no cut and dry solution for insomnia. This is because there are many types of insomnia, with many causes, meaning there’s no ‘one size fits all’ option. For some people, exercising before bed (but not right before bed) can help net them a better night’s sleep. Other helpful tips include making sure your body is ready for sleep by limiting stimulation and activity. This means keeping a sleep-friendly room. Sticking to a sleep schedule, even on the weekends, may also help insomniacs get to sleep better because they fall into a routine.
All in all, sleep is both more important and more involved than you might expect. While there’s a lot that varies from person to person, there are also some key points you definitely shouldn’t compromise. Always listen to your body, and if you wake groggy after plenty of sleep, or have trouble getting to sleep, consider changing up your nighttime (and daytime) habits, including both what you do, and when you do it. You owe it to yourself to get a good night’s rest whenever possible, because believe it or not, sleep affects so many aspects of your life.Related: Can’t Sleep? Try These 10 Vitamins