4 sleep myths that could be damaging your health

Common misconceptions about sleep could be having a negative impact on our health and mood, according to experts

For many people, the science of sleep is a bit of a mystery. Some of us seem to able to manage on very little sleep, while others have to strive for at least 8 hours if they have any hope of functioning the next day.

And as such a complex topic, sleep has found itself subject to a great many ‘sleep myths’. Thankfully, it’s also the subject of a lot of research which works to dispel these misconceptions.

A team of researchers from New York University has discovered the world’s most common sleep myths and matched them against scientific evidence.

So we’re going to take a closer look at some of these statements, assessing just how true they are.

“I can cope on less than 5 hours’ sleep”

Many of the world’s most powerful figures have claimed to function on a reduced amount of sleep — from fashion director Tom Ford’s 3 hours a night to Margaret Thatcher’s famous 4 hours.

But the message that this sends, that in order to succeed you need to forego sleep, is dangerous. Sleep is vital, not just for our energy levels and productivity but also for our health overall. Sleeping five hours or less a night can greatly increase your risk of conditions like stroke and heart disease.

Instead, most sleep experts recommend that you aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night.

“Watching TV in bed helps me relax”

It may seem like a good way to wind down, but watching TV can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep. This is largely due to the way screens and light levels impact our release of melatonin: the body’s natural sleep chemical.

Exposing your eyes to bright lights before bed, whether it’s a TV, a laptop or a smartphone, can inhibit your melatonin release, stopping you from truly relaxing.

What’s more, we may think of watching TV as a calming experience, but for most of us late-night viewing means checking in on the news headlines, which can actually increase stress. Even TV dramas aren’t safe, as they’re designed to be gripping and invigorating, not relaxing.

Consider reading in bed or, better yet, engaging in some meditation before drifting off.

“A drink before bed helps me get to sleep”

A nightcap may help you get to sleep, but at the cost of your overall sleep quality. Alcohol has particularly adverse effects on your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is vital for learning and memory. So while you might find it easier to nod off, you’ll probably still feel tired and lethargic the next morning.

It’s also worth remembering that alcohol is a diuretic, meaning you may find yourself waking up in the night with a full bladder.

“Hitting the snooze button helps me feel more rested”

When your alarm goes off first thing in the morning, it can be all-too tempting to hit that snooze button and try and catch a few extra precious minutes of sleep.

However, even if you do fall back to sleep for the brief period before your alarm goes off again, this sleep is likely to be light and low-quality. So you won’t actually feel more rested for it.

No matter how difficult it may be, it’s important to simply get up when it’s time to get up. Open your curtains and let the natural light help you feel more awake.

Remember, if you have the time to hit the snooze button several times, you also have the time to simply set a later alarm (one you can get up to straight away) and enjoy a longer stretch of genuine sleep. So make sure you don’t fall victim to these sleep myths.

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