Hey, sleepyheads. What you believe about sleep may be nothing but a pipe dream.
Many of us have notions about sleep that have little basis in fact and may even be harmful to our health, according to researchers at NYU Langone Health’s School of Medicine, who conducted a study published Tuesday in the journal Sleep Health.
Here are 10 very wrong, unhealthy assumptions we often make about sleep, an act in which we spend an estimated third of our lives — or, if we lived to 100, about 12,227 combined days. It’s time to put these unsound sleep myths to bed.
It’s Healthy To Be Able To Fall Asleep ‘Anywhere, Anytime’
Falling asleep as soon as the car/train/airplane starts moving is not a sign of a well-rested person, sleep experts say. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
“Falling asleep instantly anywhere, anytime, is a sign that you are not getting enough sleep and you’re falling into ‘micro-sleeps’ or mini-sleep episodes,” Robbins said. ‘It means your body is so exhausted that whenever it has a moment, it’s going to start to repay its sleep debt.”
You feel sleepy because of a buildup of a chemical called adenosine in the brain, which happens throughout the day as you head toward night. Sleeping soundly reduces that chemical so that when you wake up, the levels are at their lowest, and you feel refreshed.
But the longer you stay awake and the less sleep you get, the more your adenosine levels rise, creating what’s called a sleep load or sleep debt.
Your Brain And Body Can Adapt To Less Sleep
People also believed that the brain and body could adapt and learn to function optimally with less sleep. That too is a myth, experts say. That’s because your body cycles through four distinct phases of sleep to fully restore itself.
In stage one, you start to lightly sleep, and you become disengaged from your environment in stage two, where you will spend most of your total sleep time. Stages three and four contain the deepest, most restorative sleep and the dreamy state of REM, or rapid eye movement sleep.
“During REM, the brain is highly reactive,” Robbins said. “It almost looks like your brain is awake if we hook you up to two more electrodes and were able to monitor your brain waves.”
REM can occur any time during the sleep cycle, but on average, it starts about 90 minutes after you’ve fallen asleep. REM is when your body and brain are busy storing memories, regulating mood and learning. It’s also when you dream. Your arm and leg muscles are temporarily paralyzed during REM sleep, so you can’t act out your dreams and injure yourself.
Snoring, Although Annoying, Is Mostly Harmless
In your dreams, maybe. In fact, “loud, raucous snores interrupted by pauses in breathing” is a marker for sleep apnea, a dangerous sleep disorder that, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, increases risk for heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, asthma, high blood pressure, glaucoma, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and cognitive and behavior disorders.
Drinking Alcohol Before Bed Helps You Fall Sleep
Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but that’s where the benefits end, Robbins said. Instead, it traps you in the lighter stages of sleep and “dramatically reduces the quality of your rest at night.”
“It continues to pull you out of rapid eye movement and the deeper stages of sleep, causing you to wake up not feeling restored,” Robbins said.
Not Sleeping? Stay In Bed With Eyes Closed And Try And Try
You have to admit, it makes sense: How can you fall asleep if you’re not in the bed trying? Yet sleep experts say that continuing to count sheep for more than 15 minutes isn’t the smartest move.
“If we stay in bed, we’ll start to associate the bed with insomnia,” Robbins said. She equates it to “going to the gym and standing on a treadmill and not doing anything.”
In reality, Robbins said, it takes a healthy sleeper about 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you’re tossing and turning much longer than that, you should get out of bed, change the environment and do something mindless: “Keep the lights low and fold socks,” she suggested.
It Doesn’t Matter What Time Of Day You Sleep
Sleep experts say that’s another myth that can negatively affect your health.
“We recommend that people have a regular sleep schedule because it controls what we call the biological clock, or circadian rhythm, of the body,” Jean-Louis said. “That controls all the hormones of the body, body temperature, eating and digestion, and sleep-wake cycles.”
When your inner clock and the outside world are out of phase, you can feel disoriented, mentally foggy and sleepy at times when you need to be functioning at optimal levels. Just think of what happens when you travel across time zones or when daylight savings time kicks in.
Studies of shift workers, who work unusual hours and live out of sync with their normal biological rhythm, show that they are at increased risk for heart disease, ulcers, depression, obesity, and certain cancers, as well as a higher rate of workplace accidents and injuries due to a slower reaction rate and poor decision-making.
Watching TV In Bed Helps You Relax
Come on, we all do it — or we check our laptop or smartphone before we power down for the night. Unfortunately, that sets us up for a bad night.
“These devices emit bright blue light, and that blue light is what tells our brain to become alive and alert in the morning,” Robbins explained. “We want to avoid blue light before bed, from sources like a television or your smartphone, and do things that relax you.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, blue light affects the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, more than any other wavelength of light. Watching TV or using an electronic device within two hours of bedtime means it will take you longer to fall asleep, you’ll have less dream state or REM sleep, and even if you do sleep eight or more hours, you’ll wake up feeling groggy.
If you’d like to see the whole list from Sandee LaMotte at CNN Health, you can click here!
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