Sleep is of the utmost importance for human beings, but despite its pervasiveness as a part of everyday life, sleep continues to be misunderstood by many people. A contributing factor to the misunderstanding of how sleep works, and what does and does not affect sleep, is the prevalence of sleeping myths. As science has progressed, many commonly believed sleeping myths have been debunked and replaced with a more comprehensive understanding of how sleep works and how sleep changes between individual people. To find the right sleep schedule, pattern, and habits to implement into your life, it is important to understand whether or not there is any truth to common sleeping myths as you may be unconsciously basing your current sleep habits on common myths you heard growing up. To help you further your understanding of sleep and achieve the best night of sleep possible, we have put together a list of common sleeping myths that we have debunked, as well as tips on how to achieve a replenishing night of sleep.
Common Myths About Sleeping: Are They True?
Myths about everything from sleeping to sickness have been a tenant upon which human society is built. Before there was scientific evidence to disprove faulty advice, recommendations and sayings were handed down from generation to generation about how best to approach various elements of life. One of the most common aspects of life that spawned various myths is sleep. To help you know which myths are true and which are not, we have compiled a handful of the most common myths about sleep.
- Caffeine can cause, or perpetuate, insomnia. If you consume caffeinated beverages, you may have asked yourself, “Does caffeine really keep you awake?” One of the most commonly consumed caffeinated beverages is coffee, which begs the question, does coffee keep you awake? Caffeine is a stimulant that blocks the receptors in the brain that cause feelings of sleepiness and increases nerve cell activity. Consuming caffeine results in a spike in adrenaline and cortisol levels within the body, as well as an increase in dopamine. The rise in dopamine produces a euphoric feeling that some refer to as a “caffeine high.” Because caffeine produces a measurable effect on the human body, many wrongly assume that this effect will last a significant amount of time. In fact, the half-life of caffeine is roughly four to six hours. This means that if you are to have a cup of coffee, or even two, in the morning, that it will be largely or completely processed out of your body by the time you go to sleep. However, if you choose to drink a cup of coffee in the late afternoon or evening, then there is a strong possibility that it will negatively affect your ability to sleep. To avoid sleep disturbances due to caffeine consumption, be sure to establish a cut off time that ensures that caffeine will be out of your system prior to you attempting to go to sleep for the night.
- Never wake up a sleepwalker. Growing up, you may have heard this tried and true adage. Sleepwalking can be amusing, and at times terrifying habit. You may find a loved one in the kitchen making a pot of coffee in their sleep or walking around the house turning on the lights. Sleepwalking can take a number of different manifestations and sleepwalkers tend to exhibit patterns they adopt when unconscious. Despite being asleep, sleepwalkers can sometimes be convincing enough that you will believe they are awake. Much about sleepwalking is still being researched to be understood, and the majority of the understanding of most people is based on instances of sleepwalking they have encountered in books, television, or movies. Unfortunately, these depictions have served to perpetuate the myth that waking a sleepwalker can frighten them so much that they may experience negative health side effects or may react violently. While this is possible, waking up a sleepwalker usually only results in slight distress as they attempt to regain an awareness of their surroundings and their body.
- You only really need four hours of sleep to be rested. Despite there being a widespread understanding that the average person needs roughly eight hours of sleep per night, there is a commonly held belief that while this may be the ideal scenario, individuals only need four hours of sleep to be rested. Recently, researchers identified a gene that occurs in roughly two to three percent of the population that accounts for why some individuals may be able to thrive with less sleep, but this is not true for the majority of the population. Sleep is extremely important to your overall health, and on average you should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night to be able to stay healthy and be alert throughout the day. For most people, sleeping less than seven to eight hours per night results in sleep deprivation, which can manifest in a number of negative side effects, such as weight gain, depression, or heart disease.
- Sleeping is a passive activity. Many people have heard sleep referred to as a time the body is inactive and that it is an inherently passive activity. This perception of sleep often characterizes sleeping as the absence of consciousness. However, as research and science have improved, so has our understanding of how sleep works. Contrary this popular belief, sleep is an incredibly active process that engages both the body and the brain. When the body is asleep, it follows a complex sequence of events that occur in a cyclical pattern each night. When a human being is asleep, the production of human growth hormone and prolactin from the endocrine system begin to increase. Human growth hormone and prolactin are both essential for a healthy, functioning immune system. In addition, some evidence suggests that brain activities, such as delta waves, actually increase when a human being is asleep. The most familiar way to recognize the activity that characterizes sleep is to think of how vivid dreams can be. Dreaming is useful for much more than just being imaginative, evidence suggests that dreaming helps to build neural connections within the brain and is a vital component of long-term memory consolidation.
- You can catch up on your sleep by sleeping more at another time. If you have ever found yourself running low on sleep because of other commitments, you may have said that you would catch back up on your sleep on the weekend or the following night. Many people consider this type of sleep debt as something they can remediate by simply sleeping more at a later point in time. However, research has suggested that simply sleeping more at a later time may not be capable of fully restoring your sleep patterns. Research suggests that by having one long night of sleep to compensate for sleep deprivation, performance may be returned to normal, but this return to normalcy is generally short-lived before you will begin to feel fatigued and your reaction times will be impaired. It is vital that you not allow yourself to be sleep deprived for too long as you will begin to accumulate a chronic sleep debt that will be difficult for your body to adjust to.
- Watching television or reading a book will help you to fall asleep. Many people believe that by doing a relaxing activity, like watching television or reading a book, they will have an easier time falling asleep. In the United States, watching television before falling asleep is the most popular pre-sleep activity. For some, they believe that the light and soft noise helps to create enough mental distraction to calm the mind. However, the television emits a bluish hued light that may negatively affect your ability to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. The body utilizes light to regulate its biological clock. Within the body, blue light regulates the secretion of melatonin, which is known as the sleep hormone. If you are laying in front of a television that is producing bluish hued light, then your body will cease its production of melatonin, which will result in you feeling much more alert and awake. In addition, some research has shown that sleeping with the television playing results in a number of different health conditions, such as depression. While many believe that their television is helping to lull them to sleep, it may be keeping them awake at night. Reading a book may also be interfering with sleep patterns as it requires a light to be on.
- Yawning is only an indication of tiredness. Yawning is commonly perceived as a sign that an individual is fatigued. However, the cause of yawning still remains a question within the scientific community, despite a significant amount of inquiry. Some research has suggested that yawning is a part of a thermoregulatory response. This response aids in decreasing the temperature of the brain by shunting blood to the facial muscles. From there, the facial muscles imitate a radiator and help to reduce heat in the blood. Another scientific theory about the origin of yawning postulates that yawning is due to low oxygen levels in the lungs. If you have ever wondered about the correlation between yawning and sleep, you may have asked, “Can you yawn in your sleep?” While yawning is far less common when an individual is asleep, cases of individuals yawning while asleep have been documented.
Tips for a Replenishing Night of Sleep
- Avoid Caffeine in the Evening: If you find yourself wondering, “Why am I more awake at night?” it is possible that you are ingesting caffeine too late in the day. While coffee may not cause insomnia, if you consume caffeine too late in the day it will negatively affect your sleep schedule. To avoid this, establish a time at which you switch to only consuming decaffeinated beverages to ensure that caffeine never negatively affects your sleep schedule
- Establish a Sleep Schedule: Many people do not realize how beneficial it is to establish a sleep schedule in which you fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day, including on the weekends. This aids in regulating your body’s clock and helps your body to fall asleep and stay asleep during the course of the night.
- Ditch the Pre-Sleep Television: It may be tempting to lay in bed and fall asleep to your favorite television show or movie, but as detailed above, this can be a harmful habit for your sleep patterns. Not only will your body adjust its melatonin production in reaction to the light of the television, your body may naturally wake itself up to turn off the television, which may disrupt your sleep cycle and result in difficulty falling back asleep.
- Invest in a High Quality, Organic Mattress and Pillow: One of the largest factors in the quality of your night sleep is the mattress you sleep on and the pillow that you lay your head on. Not only is it vital that you find a mattress that provides the right support and comfort for your body, but it is also important to check the ingredients and how your mattress and pillows are manufactured. Many non-organic mattresses are laced with harmful chemicals that you will breathe in each night while you are asleep, which can adversely affect your sleep patterns and sleep quality. Many pillows are also made with materials that contain chemicals or potential allergens. To ensure that you get the best night of sleep possible, invest in a high quality, organic mattress, and pillow to help support you while you sleep. Target a mattress that is made with natural memory foam, which will not contain harmful chemicals and will conform to your body and relieve pressure.