For instance, you’ve likely heard that everyone should be getting eight hours of sleep each night. The truth is, while the National Sleep Foundation does recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep per night (so an average of eight hours) for healthy adults, the amount of sleep each person needs is actually personal to them and reliant on a number of factors, including age and genetics. And that's just one of many distorted truths that are pervasive with respect to sleep health.
“Sleep myths develop when people look for a catch-all fix for their sleep as a means of prioritizing it, but there is no such thing,” —Joshua Tal, PhD
“Sleep myths develop when people look for a catch-all fix for their sleep as a means of prioritizing it, but there is no such thing,” says sleep psychologist Joshua Tal, PhD. “Everyone has different variables affecting their sleep, and it's important to do your own research to find out what helps your sleep and what hurts it.”
With that in mind, Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep expert and sleep advisor for sleep-health wearable brand Oura, says “there are better solutions to most of the problems myths address.” That said, if you are experiencing pervasive issues blocking you from getting the quality sleep you deserve, you'd be wise to seek the assistance of a medical professional who may have a background in sleep medicine. Otherwise, read on for five of the most common sleep myths, debunked by the professionals.
5 common sleep myths, debunked by sleep experts
1. It’s essential to get 8 hours of sleep per night.
“There are no hard and fast rules about the amount of sleep each of us needs. We all have our own individual needs,” says sleep expert Neil Stanley, PhD, author of How to Sleep Well. “Therefore, you need to get the right amount of sleep for you.”
But what is that magic, personalized number? According to Dr. Stanley, you may benefit from deemphasizing a specific hour amount and instead paying attention to how you feel. "The amount of sleep that allows you to feel awake and vital the next day” is the right amount for you, he says.
2. There is no such thing as too much sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, oversleeping can be generally be defined as sleeping more than nine hours in a 24-hour period. And, says Dr. Tal, “oversleeping can reduce your natural hunger for sleep the next night, disrupting sleep and increasing sleep anxiety in some.”
For some, he adds, sleeping too much could actually be indicative of an underlying condition. “A desire to sleep too much can also be a sign that there is something causing lower-quality sleep, such as alcohol or substances, medications, or sleep apnea. Nevertheless, there are some people who also need more sleep than the average individual.”
Common oversleeping symptoms include taking more naps than normal for you during the day, experiencing sleepiness throughout the day, or having an increased number of headaches. To figure out if you need more or less sleep than what you’re getting, Dr. Tal suggests experimenting “with different sleep lengths and [comparing] the following levels of fatigue.”
3. If you miss out on sleep during the week, you can catch up by sleeping in on the weekend.
Of course, catching up on sleep when you need it is important, but sleeping in on the weekend isn’t necessarily a doctor-recommended fix to rely on each week. In fact, doing so “can actually add to sleep disruption and increase tiredness,” says Dr. Stanley.
“Our bodies respond better to regular sleep patterns—going to bed and getting up at a regular time.” — sleep expert Neil Stanley, PhD
“Our bodies respond better to regular sleep patterns—going to bed and getting up at a regular time,” Dr. Stanley says. Sleeping in on the weekend, he adds, “is disruptive to this pattern, and this is why getting up on Monday morning can be so difficult.”
Of course, if you're more tired than normal, catching up on sleep when you can is always better than not catching up, but the goal should be cultivating a regular sleep routine where needing to repay sleep debt is the exception to the rule.
4. Snoring is never cause for concern.
While a snoring habit is often associated with being an annoying bedmate, sometimes it can also reflect serious health concerns. “Loud, frequent snoring with regular pauses in breathing is called sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that should be treated,” says Dr. Stanley.
If you suspect a snoring habit may be reflective of an underlying health issue, it’s best to seek the help of a medical professional.
5. Certain foods will knock you out.
It’s a common joke told after Thanksgiving dinner that eating turkey can induce sleep. But while turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which can aid in sleep, Dr. Breus says you’d have to eat an inordinate amount of it in order to digest enough tryptophan to help you fall asleep earlier. That said, while there are no foods that will function like a veritable sleeping pill, there are a number that support a healthy sleep routine, like bananas, eggs, and pistachios. The caveat, though, is that certain foods and ingredients may actually stand to get in the way of quality shut-eye—like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
Ultimately, Dr. Tal says, “if it helps you sleep, great. Keep doing it.” And if it doesn't, you can leave it.
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