Mention being unable to sleep to your friends and you’ll probably get plenty of advice. The problem is, because old wives’ tales about sleep are everywhere, many common beliefs about sleep are faulty.
Here are some persistent misunderstandings about sleep and why they’re simply not true.
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1. You Can Make Up for Lost Time on Weekends
If you burn the candle at both ends all week, and you’ve built a big sleep deficit because of it, sleeping in on weekends can actually make things worse. Your body needs a regular pattern of sleeping and wakefulness to operate at optimum efficiency.
Swinging back and forth between five hours sleep several nights in a row and then ten hours sleep on weekends keeps your systems unsettled and misfiring. Find a way to get more sleep during the week and keep similar hours on the weekend, if you want to stay sharp mentally and physically.
2. Counting Sheep Puts You to Sleep
Obviously, most of us suffering from insomnia don’t actually count woolly creatures to bring on sleep. What we may think is helpful, though, is repetitive mental activity. The problem is that our minds take off on flights of fancy. That’s why we’re so darned creative! If you struggle to contain your thoughts while trying to pull yourself to sleep, it’s time to try a different approach.
3. You Require Less Sleep as You Age
This one is incredibly persistent. That’s probably because, as we age, physical ailments may keep us awake more often. But that doesn’t mean we should accept our insomnia as a normal part of aging.
We may actually require more sleep to undo the added stress of diminished physical ability, heart disease, hormonal changes and a whole host of other problems that can come as our bodies grow older. If your hair’s turning grey and you’re not sleeping well, learn why and take steps to correct it!
4. Taking Naps Ruins Sleep Patterns
Let’s be more specific here: if you’re napping three hours a day and then staying awake all night, you should probably cut down on your nap times. But a short nap during the day can recharge your mental and physical batteries, and shouldn’t interfere with good sleep habits.
5. Lying Down Quietly Counts as Sleep
If this myth was true, insomniac’s world-wide would rejoice! The truth is that your body requires those cycles of relaxation, light sleep and deep, REM-level sleep which occur throughout the night in order to be refreshed. Lying quietly might be restful, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for having the health benefits of a good night’s sleep.
6. We Need More Sleep if We’re Sleepy All Day
There are actually several other reasons we may be getting sleepy at work or school. If we’re sleeping well at night and still yawning all day long, it’s time to look for other causes. Trouble staying awake during the day can be a warning signal for disorders like diabetes, hypoglycaemia and sleep apnoea.
7. “I Only Need Four Hours Sleep”
This false belief is particularly pervasive. You may be buzzing along, performing above the pack on four hours sleep, but there’s probably an unhealthy reason why. Bipolar disorder, hormonal imbalances, anxiety and a number of other conditions can cause you to charge ahead long after your body has run out of steam.
Here’s another thought to ponder: if you’re hyper-competitive and count your lack of sleep as a reason for pride, you may be shortening your life by refusing to acknowledge your body’s need for sleep. You have to decide for yourself, but are they really worth it?
Misinformation about sleep helps us make bad decisions and fail to seek help. The next time someone tells you to count sheep to help you fall asleep, just smile and then go do your own research. Finding out the truth about how and why we sleep is a much better use of your time!