Myth: Alcohol will help you sleep
IEVGENII MEYER/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: Drinking a glass of wine before bed may help you fall asleep (though some people find alcohol does the exact opposite), but that sleep will likely be anything but restorative. Alcohol—a common ingredient in sleep aids—keeps your body from producing melatonin, a necessary ingredient for a good night’s sleep. (Don’t miss these other sleep aids that work against you.) Imbibing before bedtime also interrupts your REM cycles and inhibits dreaming, both of which are likely to leave you feeling worn out rather than rested when the alarm rings. Give up on the nightcap, and you’ll also reap these health benefits of avoiding alcohol.
Myth: You can always catch up on sleep over the weekend
NENAD AKSIC/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: Sleeping in a couple days a week won’t make up for chronic sleep loss. Every time you skimp on sleep, you start accruing a “sleep debt” of the hours you’ve lost. If you have one late night and go to bed early the next, it’s probably not a huge deal. But relying on that constantly means you’ll never pay your “debt” back in full, and you’ll never get over the scary symptoms of sleep loss. In fact, one study in the American Journal of Physiology even found you can’t pay it back, no matter how much you sleep. After six days of sleep deprivation, participants were more tired and less able to focus that they were before the sleep loss. Once they got recovery sleep, they weren’t so drowsy anymore, but their attention levels still didn’t get back to normal. So even though you might feel more well rested come Monday, you might still not be performing your best at work. Plus, there’s a good chance (and good reason) you won’t be able to fall asleep on Sunday.
Myth: If you toss and turn, go to bed earlier to fall asleep sooner
PHOTOGRAPHEE.EU/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: Hitting the sack before you’re sleepy could actually work against you. Because your body isn’t used to going to bed so early, you’ll still be tossing and turning until the time you normally fall asleep. “The more time you spend in bed each night without sleeping, the more you will associate your bed with being wide awake, instead of a restful, sleep-promoting place,” sleep expert Stephanie Silberman, PhD, writes on HuffPost. “It can actually make it harder for you to fall asleep because your mind and body will think that you are supposed to be awake in bed.” She recommends waiting until you’re tired to go to bed, then only getting up after you’ve been awake for 20 minutes. You’ll fall asleep quicker that night (especially with this trick for falling asleep in 60 seconds), plus develop good habits. As your body starts associating the bed with sleep, you’ll be less likely to toss and turn. And if all else fails, memorize this tip to stop tossing and turning.
Myth: An afternoon cup of joe can’t hurt
MELICA/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: Depending upon your caffeine sensitivity, age and even the time of the month, caffeine any time of day can potentially keep you up at night. It takes the body seven hours to break down half the amount of caffeine you consume, and your caffeine sensitivity changes over time. If you suddenly find yourself unable to fall asleep at night, try cutting out coffee after noon, or even cutting down your morning fix from two cups to one. Still can’t sleep? Try decaf. If you’re worried about caffeine withdrawal, learn what happens when you quit coffee (it’s not all bad!).
Myth: A carb-heavy bedtime snack will help you sleep
CHAMILLE WHITE/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: Squeezing in carbs before bed could ruin your sleep quality. Carbohydrates increase tryptophan, which raises the body’s sleep-inducing serotonin levels. But scientists who study sleep caution against eating anything heavy within a few hours of bedtime. Eating late in the evening not only raises body temperature, but can also lead to digestive problems, both of which interfere with sleep. Avoid these other eating habits that ruin your sleep, too.
Myth: Snoring is totally harmless
TOMMASO79/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: That nighttime noise could indicate a bigger problem. For most people, snoring probably isn’t a problem (except for their annoyed partners) and could be fixed with home remedies for snoring. But for others, it could be the first sign of obstructive sleep apnea. With OSA, airways get totally or partially blocked when you’re asleep, and your body will jot awake when it realizes you aren’t breathing. Not only does OSA ruin your sleep quality, but it can also increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and obesity, according to the NIH.
Myth: Everyone should get eight hours of sleep a night
VGSTOCKSTUDIO/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: Sleep needs vary from person to person. The National Sleep Foundation reviewed 312 studies and concluded seven to nine hours of shuteye will keep most adults healthy. So yes, eight hours is a handy average to toss around, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Plus, the researchers stressed that some people might need more or less than those recommendations to function correctly. Bottom line: If you feel great while consistently getting six hours of sleep, that’s awesome. But if you need at least nine to feel functional, there’s no shame in that either. As long as you aren’t making these sleeping mistakes, just listen to your body.
Myth: A warm room will put you to sleep
STOCK-ASSO/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: In fact, the opposite is true. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleep is between 54 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, a wide range that allows your body temperature to cool down and your sleep cycle to begin. Good air circulation, light to medium blankets, and warm hands and feet are also crucial ingredients for healthy sleep. Don’t miss these other habits that ruin your sleep quality.
Myth: If you have insomnia, stay in bed
AMENIC181/SHUTTERSTOCKReality: It depends on the situation—and the insomniac. Sleep experts vary in opinion on this one, but most agree that if you’re relaxed and comfortable, you should stay in bed and allow your body and mind to rest. If lying awake leads to anxiety or frustration, however, getting up and doing something else is the way to go. For instance, try these tricks for falling back asleep in the middle of the night.