5 Harmful Sleep Myths You Need to Ignore

5 Harmful Sleep Myths You Need to Ignore

Ah, sleep myths. Like a rigged game of whack-a-mole or a driveway filled with weeds, they just keep popping up. And everyone believes at least one.

Whether it’s the old chestnut about eating cheese before you sleep (gives you nightmares, apparently), or the notion that alcohol helps get to you to dreamland, facts and myths about sleep are often intertwined.

But not for long. Oh, no. We’ve scoured the internet to find the most common myths about sleep, with the intention of untangling sleep-fact from sleep-fiction.

Untidy bed

Sleep Myths: Debunked

It’s worth noting that some of the most common sleep myths originate before sleep science was considered a legitimate area of study. As such, they’re based on zero evidence; and are essentially rumours that came to be accepted as fact.

And while some sleep myths are little more than jumped-up urban legends, others are so widely believed that they pose genuine risks to your wellbeing.

So, let’s get to debunking, shall we?

1. Eating Cheese Before You Sleep Gives You Nightmares

The undisputed heavyweight champion of sleep myths; this humdinger has featured in everything from kid’s TV shows to music videos, despite the total lack of supporting evidence.

And, in 2005, the British Cheese Board had enough.

Tired of people believing that cheese was responsible for the monsters in their dreams, they conducted a study to prove cheese’s innocence.

How, you ask?

Well, they gave 2oo participants 20g of different types of cheese immediately before bed for a week. Overall, 72% of those who took part reported sleeping well each night. And of the 67% who said they could remember their dreams, none reported having any nightmares.

And thus, cheese was acquitted.

Cheeseboard

But, according to the study’s findings, cheese can affect the content of your dreams in other, less petrifying ways. For example:

  • 85% of female participants who ate Stilton reported unusual (but not scary) dreams
  • 65% of participants who ate Cheddar had dreams about celebrities
  • Over 65% of participants who ate Red Leicester reported dreaming about their old school days
  • 100% of female participants who ate British Brie said that they had relaxing dreams, but male participants eating the same cheese reported cryptic dreams
  • Around 67% of participants who ate Lancashire cheese said they had dreams about work
  • And over 50% of participants who ate Cheshire cheese said they didn't dream at all.

So, the next time you wake up from a night-terror, don’t blame the brie, y’hear?

2. You Need Eight Hours Sleep Per Night

Person sleeping soundly in bed

Okay. We’ll never inveigh against sleep. (It’s kind of… our thing), but we feel duty bound to address the myth that you need eight hours of sleep per night.

Essentially, the amount of sleep you need is relative; and the amount of shut eye you need depends on factors incusing age, health, and lifestyle. For example, a person whose job requires a great deal of physical exertion (manual labour, for example will need more sleep than someone working in a more sedentary environment.

As a rule of thumb, healthy adults should aim for somewhere between 7 – 10 hours of sleep each night; so you needn’t worry if you find yourself waking up earlier.

But don’t just take our word for it.

Research published by the Nature and Science of Sleep concluded that there is no correct number of hours you should sleep for each night.

The amount of sleep you should be getting each night depends entirely on who you are, with age often playing the major determining factor. If you’re keen to learn how much sleep is optimal for you, check out our handy chart.

Sleep by age infographic

3. Alcohol Helps You Sleep

Spoiler: it doesn’t.

“But what about a whiskey before bed?”

Still no.

“But I always sleep better after a drink.”

You don’t. You just think you do. The truth is quite the opposite, as revealed in research conducted by the Sleep Disorders and Research Centre of the Henry Ford Hospital. Who found that although alcohol helped participants fall asleep quicker, the quality of that sleep was heavily diminished.

And that’s before you factor in the pressure placed on your bladder, resulting in more frequent periods of wakefulness.

Whichever way you slice it, alcohol disrupts sleep, potentially leading to fatigue the following day. So, if you’re thinking of having a glass of wine to loosen up for sleep, maybe hit the hot chocolate instead.

4. If You Can’t Sleep, You Should Stay in Bed Until You Do

Finally, a sleep myth with some logical reasoning. It’s still, a myth, but at least it makes sense.

The notion of staying in bed when you can’t sleep links to stimulation; the idea that getting up and engaging in an activity is counter-productive to sleep. And that’s partially true.

You see, it’s important that your brain associates your bed with sleep and staying in bed when you’re unable to sleep can instead create an association between your bed and a sense of frustration, potentially exacerbating the issue.

To avoid this negative association, experts recommend staying in bed for no longer than twenty minutes when you can’t sleep.

So, if you’ve been stuck counting the cracks in the ceiling for twenty minutes or more, your best bet is to get up and engage in a relaxing activity – perhaps reading by soft light – before going back to bed for another shot at slumber.

Oh, and repeat after us: “I will not scroll through my social feeds when I can’t sleep.”

5. Naps Make Up for Lost Sleep

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? And who amongst us hasn’t attempted to patch up a fragmented sleep schedule with a power nap?

But logical as it may seem, even the most well-timed of naps does little to make up for lost sleep, and you may even find yourself in a vicious cycle wherein napping disrupts sleep, which leads to napping, and so on. Moreover, napping for too long can leave you feeling groggier than you felt before you curled up on the couch.

That said, we’re not entirely ruling out napping, and a well-controlled snooze can leave you feeling fresh and rejuvenated. Our advice? Avoid grogginess by setting an alarm for your nap; ideally for twenty minutes.

Why? Well, it links to the stages of sleep. Anything longer than 20 minutes and you’re in deep sleep (also known as NREM or delta sleep) territory, which, despite being where the restorative magic happens, is what leads to that sluggish, no-amount-of-caffeine-can-help feeling you get upon waking.

We've all heard of these sleep myths, but it might be time to forget them if you want a more restful night. For more expert sleep tips, make sure you check out the rest of our blog.

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