Despite the fact that we spend approximately a third of our life doing it, how much do we really know about sleep? If you’re like most people, probably not much. If we did, it might translate into getting better quality rest.
In recent years a growing body of research has gone into unpacking our slumber. And as a result, the field of sleep medicine has also grown by leaps and bounds. Although it doesn’t take a doctor to tell us that inadequate sleep or poor sleep impacts the way we act and feel during the day, false misinformation is passed along with such confidence that we believe it.
In 2019, the National Sleep Foundation put together a panel of experts to pinpoint the most well-known sleep myths. Bringing them into the daylight provides an opportunity to share the facts, set the record straight, and help you get the rest you need! So let’s dive into debunking some of the top sleep myths.
Your body adapts to getting less sleep.
That’s a big ‘no.’ Research tells us that a lack of sleep takes a toll in both almost immediately and never stops, proof that your brain and body can’t just get used to getting less sleep.
After a few nights of inadequate sleep, you’ll likely find yourself feeling more sluggish or drowsy during the day. It may stabilize over weeks or months if the habit isn’t improved, but this doesn’t mean that your body is operating any better. You’re just in survival mode.
Repeated sleep deprivation is costly. It negatively impacts daytime performance, decision-making, memory, focus, and creativity. And that’s not all, the longer you do without, the worse the health implications become. Your metabolism, cardiovascular health, immune system, hormone production, and mental health all suffer.
Some adults only need five or less hours of sleep.
That one got me, I admit it. I’ve always believed that I only need five of six hours of good rest and I’m good to go.
Well, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that an average adult in good health, should get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
That said, there is a small percentage of people (estimated at about one in four million) may have a genetic mutation that allows them to naturally sleep for shorter periods and still wake up refreshed. Again, that is a big rarity. And it probably doesn’t apply to you. Or me.
Napping makes up for a lack of sleep.
Okay, let’s be honest, a quick cat nap feels pretty good. Especially coming off a long or exhausting night. It may provide an energy boost, but it is not an even trade; and there is some science behind this one, too.
During a short nap, we don’t go through the sleep stages in the way we do during a long stretch at night. Many people who have work or social schedules that constantly leave them in a sleep deficit use naps to catch up on sleep, but this often throws their sleep schedule further out-of-whack by making it harder to fall asleep at a normal bedtime.
Besides, who hasn’t taken a long nap only to wake up feeling disoriented and lazy for the rest of the day. That’s not to say napping is bad, but it’s shouldn’t be your game plan to catch up on sleep. When you do need a nap, try to stick to less than 30 minutes, early in the afternoon.
A little alcohol before bed helps you relax and get to sleep.
While a drink or two can bring on drowsiness and make it initially easier to fall asleep, it doesn’t last. Alcohol actually doesn’t leave you feeling well-rested. Studies show the quality of sleep declines, a lot, after drinking.
Booze also throws off your sleep cycles, making it more likely to wake in the middle of the night. Plus, it worsens snoring and sleep apnea which can be a big deal.
Hitting the snooze button allows you to get a little extra rest.
What would we do without the snooze button? Many of us set it well in advance of when we really have to get up, planning to hit ‘snooze’ a few times and squeeze in a few more minutes by waking up more gradually.
While ‘snoozing’ may provide a couple extra minutes to keep sleeping between alarms, it doesn’t offer meaningful rest. Besides, if you’re like me, you’re kind of mentally waiting for the next blaring alarm to hit the button again anyway.
It is all self-defeating. Fragmented sleep is generally not restorative, so you shouldn’t count on hitting snooze to help you wake up more refreshed.
At the end of the day, there are no substitutes for good sleep or shortcuts to blissful slumber. Knowing the importance of sleep, we are best served by embracing a good night’s rest.