Breaking Common Myths About Sleep
6 min read
Last Modified 2 June 2021 First Added 19 October 2017
When it comes to sleep, there are a great many commonly held beliefs, ranging from out of date medical advice to old wives’ tales. From how much sleep you need at night, to how to get to sleep more quickly, it seems that for every person, there is a different opinion. And with so much inaccurate information flying around, how do you find the fact, from the fiction? Well, we’re here to show you the truth behind some of the most common myths about sleep.
This is one of the most prevalent myths around sleep, one we have all heard throughout our lives and one which has almost no scientific basis. In truth, every adult is different; some adults can cope quite well with just 6 hours sleep, whereas others may need as much as 9 to feel refreshed. Our age affects how much sleep we need as well, with teenagers and young adults needing more sleep than older people.
Moreover, aiming for an arbitrary target of 8 hours sleep each night can lead to us putting additional pressure on ourselves to fall asleep at night which results in more sleeplessness as the harder we try to sleep, the harder it becomes!
Another common misconception is the idea that if you are tired during the day, you’re not getting enough sleep and therefore should stay in bed for longer to recuperate. In truth, the problem is not in how long you sleep for but how well you sleep.
Research shows the link between sleep and well-being is more aligned to the quality of sleep than the quantity. In fact, you could be getting too much sleep. If you are staying in bed for longer to compensate for tiredness, it’s likely that you will struggle to sleep the following night, leading to further poor sleep and a continuation of the cycle. So don’t aim for more sleep, aim for better sleep.
Sleep is more than just a prolonged period of inactivity, and there is a big difference between brain activity while sleeping than while simply resting. Furthermore, by laying in bed awake, you are strengthening your subconscious association between your bed and being awake, which is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
If you do happen to wake during the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep, rather than laying in bed ‘resting’, at The Insomnia Clinic we recommend that you get out of bed after around twenty minutes to avoid this bond forming. During this time, find something to do that occupies your brain to distract you from worrying about sleep, but nothing too stimulating; watching TV or reading a book are good ideas.
Often referred to as a ‘nightcap’, alcohol can in truth, help us to fall asleep. However, the quality of sleep you achieve is impacted negatively by the alcohol. Firstly, it can cause you to awaken during the night, usually to use the toilet which interrupts your pattern of sleep. Secondly, drinking alcohol can also impact on the restorative properties of your sleep as the body is combatting the dehydration effects that we refer to as a hangover rather than sleeping as deeply as we may need.
Yes, it is true that a poor night’s sleep can lead to sleepiness the following day, but that is usually recovered with a good night’s sleep the following night. If, however, you are consistently feeling sleepy during the day, but largely getting a decent night’s sleep, it could be symptomatic of wider health issues.
Medication, diet and even allergies can be causing drowsiness during the day. Stress and depression are other key contributors to daytime sleepiness. If you suspect you are experiencing any stress or medical complaints, you should always consult your GP. Also, there are a range of mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural techniques available to help you cope with stress and anxiety.
When we experience sleepiness during the day, it leads to a desire to have a short sleep. On the surface, this makes total sense: you are sleepy and therefore sleeping will make that go away. However, when we take a short nap, we’re not necessarily getting the best quality sleep and, depending on how long we sleep for, we can end up waking up feeling worse than when we dropped off. If you need to take a nap, aim for around 20 minutes as this will be enough sleep to help you feel refreshed, but not enough for your brain to enter the deeper stages of sleep.
While sleeping pills can offer short-term relief for sleep loss, they are not intended to provide a long-term solution. As well as becoming less effective as the body adjusts to the tablets, sleeping tablets can also lead to dependence. Most doctors will recommend CBT-i (Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia) treatments to provide a long-term and sustainable resolution to sleeplessness. CBT-i works to identify the underlying psychological factors behind sleeplessness and to provide the user with a set of skills and mental exercises to reduce our unhelpful thoughts and improve the quality of sleep.
In truth, there are four main symptoms of Insomnia, of which the inability to fall asleep is just one. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the key symptoms of insomnia are:
Read More: What Is Insomnia & Can You Cure It?
Insomnia is a complex condition that could manifest as any or all of the above symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms at all, it is best to seek help early as the cyclical nature of the disorder means that it can very quickly deteriorate if left unchecked.
Sleeping is something we all do, and so everybody has an opinion on how to get a better night’s sleep. However, if you are experiencing sleep loss, particularly if it is becoming chronic, the only opinion you should seek is that of a medical professional or sleep therapist.
To discuss sleep loss and how you can get support in achieving a better night’s sleep, contact The Insomnia Clinic.