You probably know that you don’t really eat eight spiders every year in your sleep, but did you know that there are several other sleep fallacies floating around that could be affecting your slumber?
There are several sleep myths you’ve likely encountered that seem logical on the surface, but aren’t entirely true when examined more closely.
From snoring to boozing, here’s the truth behind a few of these common sleep myths. Armed with facts and latest research, you can rest easier (and little smarter, too).
Rolling Over Stops Snoring
One commonly mentioned idea is that if you’re snoring, you can roll over (or roll your partner over) to stop it.
Snoring happens when airflow in the nose or throat is interrupted, and there are many reasons that people snore from allergies and sinusitis to sleep apnoea, narrow nasal passages, alcohol, medications and others.
It’s true that sleeping on your back makes you more prone to snoring, but snoring won’t always stop just by moving to your side. In fact, one Israeli study of 2000 snorers found that 46% of snorers were non-positional, meaning side or back sleeping made no difference.
Lost Sleep Can Be Made Up On The Weekend
In the short term, if you miss an hour or two of sleep, you can catch up the next night or nap later that day without too many side effects. However, you cannot miss one or two hours every weekday and expect to make that up on Saturday or Sunday morning on a continuous basis.
A Pennsylvania State University study tested the idea on 30 people. Participants slept eight hours for a few days to establish a baseline, then slept only six hours for six days followed by three days of 10-hour recovery sleep.
What they found was that two days of recovery sleep alleviated daytime tiredness and inflammation, but that attention performance did not rebound following recovery sleep.
Other studies have also found that chronic, mild sleep deprivation is associated with reduced cognitive performance, memory issues, obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance and other health effects.
A Nightcap Helps You Snooze Better
You’ve probably heard both praise and admonition for having a drink before bed. An alcoholic drink can leave you feeling more relaxed and little drowsier, so it’s easy to see how this myth developed. But the way alcohol works within your body actually impairs sleep.
Studies show that alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep initially for some, but that overall it reduces sleep quality, makes you more likely to wake during the night, and reduces REM and sleep phases and can also impact slow-wave sleep.
You Need Less Sleep When You’re Older
Another commonly-held belief is that as we age, our sleep needs decrease. This is spurred by the observance that older people tend to sleep for shorter durations of time.
However, while older people may have more fragmented sleep and be better at coping with shorter sleep according to some studies, sleep needs don’t actually go down much with age.
Short sleep among older people has also been linked with increased buildup of brain plaques associated with Alzheimer disease as well as increased risks of hypertension, diabetes, and arteriosclerosis.
At any age, if sleep doesn’t feel restful or if you feel tired during the day, experts recommend seeking help as non-restorative rest can be a sign of underlying sleep or health issues that can be treated.
Counting Sheep Helps You Sleep
You’ve heard the idea that counting monotonous objects can help you drift off, but one Oxford University study of insomniacs recently found that rather than encouraging sleep, counting sheep actually delayed rest compared to other methods.
The thought is that the monotony of counting may not be effective at preventing drifting thoughts or blocking out environmental cues that can keep people awake.
What did work to encourage faster sleep was visualising a relaxing scene. Participants fell asleep an average of 20 minutes sooner using visualisation compared to counting or doing nothing. So unless you find sheep particularly relaxing, it’s better to picture a bucolic vista without much regard for the high-stepping sheep.
Sleep Apnoea Only Happens In Overweight And Older People
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) has been gaining awareness in recent years, but many people still see it as a condition that only obese or older people experience.
It is estimated that around 22 million Americans suffer from OSA. Men over 40 are at greater risk, but sleep apnoea also occurs in many younger adults and even children.
Weight is a risk factor for OSA, but it can actually occur in very fit younger people as well. One large study of people tested at sleep centres found that 19% of people tested were in normal weight ranges, and of that group 54% had OSA. You might not have thought you were susceptible to sleep apnoea, but talk with your doctor if you think that might be the cause of your problems.
A Book Or TV Show Is A Good Way To Wind Down In Bed
Many people have a hard time hitting the sheets and falling right asleep, so flipping on a show or reading a book while lounging in bed can seem like a good way to relax and get sleepy.
It’s well known that televisions contribute to sleep problems by way of light and distractions, however. If you read on a tablet, laptop or smartphone, studies have also found that the lighting they emit can steal sleep.
Sleep hygiene experts usually recommend not getting in bed until you feel sleepy, and associating as few activities as possible with your bed. Rather, read or watch TV in another space until you’re ready to sleep.
Using dim lighting in the hour or two before bed and taking a warm bath can also encourage sleepiness and help you wind down.
Insomnia Is Mostly Caused By Worrying Thoughts
Stress certainly doesn’t help sleep, but it’s not the only thing that can keep you up night. Insomnia has many causes including psychological strain, poor or inconsistent sleep habits, physical pain, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnoea and more.
Insomnia is also not at all uncommon, and upwards to 60% of people regularly experience symptoms occasionally according to surveys from the National Sleep Foundation.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests seeking help when it persists longer than three weeks, and that it can be treated with cognitive relaxation techniques, medicine or by resolving underlying conditions.
There are still plenty of unresolved sleep mysteries yet to be cracked, but a few things generally accepted to be true are that we all need it to stay physically and mentally healthy, lights and electronics are bad at night, daytime exercise is good, and consistency in sleep routines proves important.
Sleep remains a hot research subject, and these eight myths go to show that our scientific understanding of slumber is constantly evolving for the better.
Rosie Osmun is the Creative Content Manager and resident writer at Amerisleep, a leading, progressive memory foam brand focused on eco-friendly sleep solutions. She finds the science of sleep fascinating and loves researching and writing about rest and eco-friendly living. Find her at the Amerisleep Blog and on Twitter