25 Sleep myths, debunked

October 27, 2020 13 mins read
25 Sleep myths, debunked

We’re pretty sure you’ve stumbled across this article in search of some sleep facts. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Sleep, and it’s many (many) benefits also comes with a lot of myths. In today’s world of over-information (read: fake news) we’re here to separate fact from fiction to help you become sleep experts (and let’s face it, get better sleep).

Are you ready to debunk some pillow talk?

1. Alcohol guarantees a good night’s sleep

False.

Even though a nightcap before bed might bring on the z’s, your overall sleep quality may suffer. Alcohol, however tempting at the end of the day, can add to the suppression of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during the first two sleep cycles.

Although alcohol is considered a sedative and will help you fall asleep quicker, as the night progresses, it can create an imbalance between slow-wave sleep and REM sleep. This means that it slowly decreases your overall sleep quality, which results in shorter sleep durations with more sleep disruptions.

2. It’s possible to function well on 5 hours or less sleep

False.

Look, when you’re pulling an all-nighter and have an urgent deadline in the morning, then 5 hours of sleep would probably get you by. But realistically, studies show you need 7-9 hours of good quality sleep to function at your best and have a productive day. Plus, sleeping longer keeps you on the healthy side of the bed by strengthening your immune system and helping to prevent heart diseases.

3. Lack of sleep intensifies pre-existing mood disturbances

True.

Sleep can intensify symptoms of pre-existing mood disturbances like generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.

Being deprived of sleep can make you feel more irritable and stressed, which can partly be attributed to the rise in cortisol levels. It’s this rise in cortisol levels that makes you feel even more anxious than you typically would when getting enough sleep.

4. If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, the usual cause is stress

Likely to be true.

Although not all sleep disorders are linked directly to stress, it can play a major role in your sleep quality. If you’re more sensitive to the shortcomings of stress, find it harder to wind down at night and leave your worries at the bedroom door, then you may find that you suffer from a stress-induced sleep disorder.

5. WiFi affects sleep

Mostly false, but…

It’s the stuff that sci-fi movies are made of: ‘How WiFI wiped out an entire generation in their sleep.’ The truth is that WiFi does emit signals, classified as non-ionizing radiation (the same radio waves from Bluetooth and microwaves). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), non-ionizing radiation isn’t dangerous and won’t affect your sleep.

However, the blue light emitted from your devices that are powered by WiFi can disrupt your sleep. How so? Light exposure interferes with the release of melatonin which is the sleep hormone. The more time you spend binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram, the less likely you’ll be able to have a great night’s sleep.

6. Exercising at night makes it difficult to fall asleep

Neutral (it depends).

This all depends on the duration and intensity of the exercise you do, as well as how long before bed you work out.

Intense exercise and exercising for longer periods can increase your cortisol levels, which can make you feel awake. If you do light exercise like gentle yoga, chances are, it won’t raise your cortisol too much, and you can get away with doing it before bed.

Aim for a short, low-intensity workout between 20 and 30 minutes to prevent a high cortisol spike. If you stop exercising 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime, it should give your body enough time to wind down.

Woman exercising

7. Entrepreneurs who sleep more are better at spotting good ideas

True.

Do you believe that successful people don’t sleep? Think again. A good night’s sleep increases memory retention and helps the brain absorb and retain information (to come up with those million-dollar ideas). It’s been shown that entrepreneurs that have a good solid sleep at night before an ideation session or at the start of a big project have been able to deliver more quality, inspired work than those who don’t get enough sleep.

During sleep, your body is a wonderland of restorative powers assisting you to function at your very best the next day. So next time you feel like you should spend all night prepping for that big project, hand it over to sleep to give you the inspiration you’ll need.

8. You can catch up on sleep

Neutral.

This is a hot debate that has scientists divided. Can you really catch up on sleep? Research has found that making up for lost sleep can help you feel less stressed and regulate your metabolism. On the other hand, sleep specialists argue that sleep debt never is repaid – that a lack of sleep leads to decreased mental and physical performance, fatigue and mood swings (and a weakened immune system in the long term).

9. You can lose weight from sleeping

True.

Sleep quality is actually one of the most important factors when it comes to losing weight. Not getting enough sleep (even after just one night), increases your ghrelin levels (your hunger hormone). You’ll not only want to eat more the next day, but you are also more likely to make poor food choices.

Not getting enough sleep will also result in higher insulin levels. Think of insulin as a storage hormone. It triggers your cells to store nutrients. Having high insulin levels is one of the leading causes of fat gain, especially around the midsection.

Getting quality sleep can help you lose weight by helping to balance hormones that affect your body like insulin and cortisol. But getting good sleep won’t be enough. You also need to follow a healthy diet, get regular exercise and reduce stress.

10. Sleep makes you beautiful

True.

Sleeping beauty had this one right: getting regular shut-eye can actually make you look prettier. The restorative powers of sleep have visible effects on your personal appearance. During sleep, your body restores collagen, the key ingredient to fight the aging process. Sleep also refreshes, detoxifies and primes your skin, from the inside out. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you can be sure that the first place you’ll notice is on your appearance. Here’s to getting our beauty sleep!

11. Sugar ruins your sleep

True.

Diet is everything when it comes to sleep! It’s tempting to snack on chocolate or have a bowl of ice-cream before bed, but this will put a spanner in your plans to snooze. According to studies, eating more sugar than usual leads to less time spent in deep sleep (restorative sleep). Sugar is also to blame for fitful sleep, so expect to wake up more often. Bottom line? Ditch the sugar and reach for healthier snacks like fruits and protein instead.

12. Children will go to sleep when they are tired

Neutral.

Some kids will go to sleep when they are tired, but not all of them. Children often become moody and/or hyperactive when they are tired. Children can experience a “second wind,” which is caused by an elevation in cortisol and adrenalin levels.

As a parent, you’ll know which fatigue cues to look out for, even if one of them is your child running around looking like they have an abundance of energy.

13. The pandemic is giving me vivid, unusual dreams

Likey to be true.

Did you know that nightmares, dreams, and sleep disturbances are more common in times of trauma and disaster? Our dreams stem from our daily reality, meaning when something scary happens, we are more likely to carry that anxiety into our dreams. And let’s face it: today’s world of don’t-go-anywhere-without-a-mask-and-social-distance-everything can be the reason you’re having unusual dreams.

Our heightened anxiety (externally coping or not) and lack of activity we are currently facing will also likely affect our sleep quality and encourage weird dreams. Practicing pre-bedtime relaxation techniques like guided sleep meditation can help keep anxiety-driven thoughts out of your sweet dreams.

Lucid dreaming, how to control your dreams

14. Snoring makes you have a bad night’s sleep

True.

We hate to break it to you, but your bed partner is not the only one suffering from your snoring. When you snore, your blocked airways make you gasp, snort and toss and turn, effectively causing you to lose out on quality sleep. To find a win-win situation where everyone sleeps well, try a snoring app or an anti-snoring device.

15. Insomnia is genetic

Neutral.

Specific genes have been associated with insomnia. But that doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to get insomnia if you have these genes, or that all people with insomnia carry these genes. There are many psychological and physiological causes of insomnia.

Before you blame your genetics and give up hope, you have to address other causes of insomnia like consuming too much caffeine, stress and anxiety, blue light exposure and an irregular sleep schedule. If your insomnia is genetic, you can still improve your insomnia by making the right lifestyle changes.

16. Insomnia is the lack of sleep

Neutral.

Insomnia is typically defined as a lack of sleep, but that’s not all there is to it. There are four symptoms generally associated with insomnia, including difficulty falling asleep, frequently waking up, struggling to fall back asleep, and waking up too early.

It’s not only lack of sleep that can cause insomnia, but also vice versa (yup, it’s a vicious sleeplessness cycle). It can be caused by numerous lifestyle habits, such as stress, too many late nights, poor sleep environments, diet, periods (sorry, ladies), and the list goes on.

17. You can’t do anything about snoring

False.

There are plenty of solutions to make snoring a thing of the past. For one, you can try natural home remedies like adjusting your sleeping position or elevating your head to breathe better. You can also track your snoring and find the best treatment for you through an app like Snore Lab or others, or use an anti-snoring device to restore some bedtime peace (and quiet).

18. Older people need less sleep

False.

The body needs rest to maintain healthy cells, for healthy brain functioning and managing inflammation. The need for your body to be able to perform all these necessary functions doesn’t reduce as you age. In fact, one might argue that your body needs all the help it can get from sleep when aging.

You want to keep your human growth hormone (HGH) levels as high as you possibly can. HGH is produced while you sleep. Older adults already produce less HGH, so if you fall in this age category, you want to ensure you get enough sleep for HGH production (around 7-9 hours a night).

19. Netflix before bed helps you sleep

False.

Thinking about adding your favorite binge into your sleep hygiene routine? Please don’t. TV, just like caffeine (for reals) is a brain stimulant. If you think about it, your brain is processing, thinking, empathizing and absorbing the narrative of your favorite show, and the effects of this last well into your sleep.

Even if you’re watching a David A classic like Blue Planet (which, we agree has the best voice and underwater sounds to soothe you into relaxation), you might find your mind still processing your own expedition as you try to sleep. But not only that, the blue light emitted from any electronic device close to bedtime decreases the production of melatonin, making it harder for your body to register that it’s sleep time.

20. More sleep is always better

False.

Not that we want to sound too dramatic, but more sleep can literally kill you. Studies have found a link between sleeping more than 9 hours a night and an increase in heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Generally, sleeping more happens when you didn’t get enough sleep the day or week before and want to catch up on shut-eye. Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea and factors like depression have also been listed as culprits of oversleeping. If you’ve found yourself putting in more winks than necessary, visit your doctor to put paid  to any serious health concerns.

picture of a women waking up

21. Never wake up a sleepwalker

False.

You can wake a sleepwalker. The real danger lies in the sleepwalker accidentally hurting themselves while on a sleepy walkabout, whether it’s falling over objects or walking into things. If you do wake them up, it can make them disoriented. Try your best to guide them back to bed, but don’t be forceful.

22. It doesn’t matter what time of day you sleep

Likely to be false.

We know that not all of us carry the regular 9-5 work schedule and sometimes shift work, can ‘shift’ our sleep schedule. But even though you may think you can catch up on sleep during the day, the effects of sleep deprivation will still be felt.

Our circadian rhythms are designed to take their cues from daylight. When it’s daytime, your body produces less melatonin (the sleep hormone). In a regular sleep-wake cycle, particularly when it’s dark, melatonin triggers the body to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Messing with this natural rhythm of sleep may make it harder for you to get the sleep you need, but, catching up on sleep is still better than no sleep, so be sure to take advantage of your downtime and schedule in some extra z’s.

23. Everyone needs 8 hours of sleep

Likely true.

The rule of thumb is that as a fully functioning adult, you need 7-9 hours of shut-eye. That’s enough time for your body and mind to get the full restorative benefits of sleep. Your immune system gets a boost, your emotional state a lift and your body’s tissues and muscles get mended.

That being said, there is a tiny part of the population that can live their best lives with just 4 to 5 hours of sleep. Their genetic disposition enables them to do so, but not so for the rest of us.

24. Sleep deprivation can be deadly

True.

This is not a myth. When sleep deprivation is severe enough, it can result in death. Your typical insomniac needn’t worry, but if you don’t get enough sleep for months at a time, you could die.

Staying awake for more than three days is dangerous. You can start to feel paranoid, experience hallucinations and have mood changes, and you have a high risk of having an accident.

Your brain will not function at your best without enough sleep, and if you are severely sleep-deprived, it can result in organ failure and eventual death.

25. Pyjamas have nothing to do with sleep quality

False.

It’s all about comfort, with or without pyjamas. The clothes (or no clothes) you wear to sleep, the type of bed linen you sleep in and your sleep environment all play a part in your sleep quality. Wearing pyjamas that are too hot, or aren’t able to let your skin breathe may keep your body from its natural temperature control and could lead to you overheating during the night.

To be able to get the best sleep possible, you should go to sleep in a cool environment and opt for cooler, more natural fabrics to sleep in. This will allow your core temperature to regulate as you sleep, limiting a restless night and possible insomnia issues.

Here’s the last truth serum we’re dropping on you today: no matter what we’ve heard, learned or put into action, we are often the biggest culprits of our own sleep deprivation.

As human beings we’re creatures of habit (and that means we find them hard to break too), we buy into sleep myths that hinder good sleep, and often believe something far easier to put into action than what’s good for us. Learning the truth from the lie is an excellent place to start in getting a better night’s sleep.