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5 Common Sleep Myths, Debunked

So what do you think you know about sleep? Where’d you get your information? If you haven’t looked into it, chances are good that much of what you think you know about sleep is based on old myths and not facts.

For a 2019 study published in the journal Sleep Health, researchers at New York University’s Langone Health School of Medicine examined 8,000 websites with sleep-related information to find out what Americans think they know about healthy sleep.

The researchers identified 20 sleep myths, ranging from the statement that “during sleep the brain is not active” to “sleeping in during the weekends is a good way to ensure you get adequate sleep.”

After running their findings by a team of sleep medicine experts, the researchers determined that many of us operate with wrong, unhealthy assumptions about sleep.

Here, we’re breaking down some of the biggest sleep myths from the study and explaining how they affect your health.

Sleep myth: It’s OK to sleep five or fewer hours per night

The researchers say this sleep myth is the most likely to harm someone’s long-term health. “We have extensive evidence to show that sleeping five hours a night or less, consistently, increases your risk greatly for adverse health consequences, including cardiovascular disease and early mortality,” Rebecca Robbins, PhD, lead study investigator, tells CNN.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society both recommend adults get seven or more hours of sleep per night regularly to promote optimal health.

sleep myths - person falling asleep in car

Sleep deprivation puts you at higher risk of car accidents due to drowsy driving.

Sleep myth: It’s healthy to be able to fall asleep anytime, anywhere

The researchers point out that this is usually a sign of sleep deprivation, which can lead to a host of issues including trouble concentrating, irritability, increased risk of diabetes, and a higher risk of car accidents due to drowsy driving.

They also note that sleep deprivation could be due to sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles in your throat relax, blocking the airway and causing a momentary cessation of breathing. You then wake up, gasp for air, and go back to sleep.

The sleep apnea process can repeat hundreds of times a night, preventing your body from entering deep sleep and depriving it of much-needed oxygen. This can result in high blood pressure, leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Sleep myth: Snoring may be annoying, but it’s harmless

While snoring by itself isn’t dangerous, it can be a sign of sleep apnea, a more serious sleep condition. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, an estimated 22 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep apnea—a serious sleep disorder that should be checked out by a health professional.

“Sleep apnea is extremely exhausting,” Robbins tells CNN. “These patients sleep and then they wake up over and over; then they are fighting sleep all day long because they’re so exhausted.” Robbins also notes that sleep apnea is under-diagnosed. “We believe it affects about 30% of the population, and around 10% are diagnosed,” she says.

sleep myths - two cocktails on table inside home

Alcohol makes it harder to get much-needed deep sleep.

Sleep myth: A nightcap before bed helps you sleep better

It’s well-established that although a cocktail may knock you out, alcohol also disrupts sleep by preventing you from achieving the important deep, restful phase of sleep. “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 tells CNN.

Plus, if you already have a sleep problem, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or a parasomnia (such as sleepwalking or sleep talking), alcohol can heighten those disorders and make getting a good night’s sleep even more difficult.

Sleep myth: A warm bedroom is best for sleep

Not so. We sleep better in cooler temperatures. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation states that the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Studies show people with insomnia have a warmer core body temperature immediately before initiating sleep—and the brain responds well to cooler temps, making sleep easier for those who tend to have difficulty.

A new bed can help improve your sleep—but it turns out plenty of mattress myths exist too. Here are the most common mattress myths and why you shouldn’t fall for them.