Knowledge is power. Or at least a good night’s sleep.

By Dan Nosowitz
April 29, 2019

Sleep is a mysterious thing. We know sleep is important, but like any other health topic, getting advice on sleeping well is rife with misconceptions, misinformation, and myths. A group of sleep scientists from around the country decided to tackle that problem once and for all. The scientists—psychologists, experts in sleep science, behavior, and public health, from universities including NYU Langone, the University of Arizona, and Penn State—used Google to find some of the most prevalent sleep myths. They then surveyed 10 sleep scientists to figure out which of the myths had scientific backing and which were false.

Hispanic woman sleeping in bed
Image courtesy of Getty.
| Credit: Courtesy of Getty

Each of those 10 sleep scientists was vetted; they had to have at least 20 published articles and had to be cited in at least 20 other scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals. There was then a multi-stage system of voting to narrow down the list of myths to those that most of the sleep scientists agreed were indeed myths. That whole system was done according to what’s called the Delphi Method, which is designed to come up with a group consensus. Here are the five biggest sleep myths they uncovered:

1. Myth: Some People Only Need Five or Fewer Hours of Sleep Per Night

The scientists recommend seven hours per night, and note that the available research finds that sleeping significantly fewer than that—like, say, fewer than five hours—is associated with some unpleasant side effects, both mentally and physically. If you're regularly feeling groggy and using makeup to look less tired, you're probably not getting enough rest. 

2. Myth: Snoring Is Annoying (But Harmless)

It's one thing to snore when you're congested, but regular snoring isn't just irritating; it can signal larger health problems. Snoring has been associated with a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. Sleep apnea, in turn, increases your risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke.

3. Myth: A Nightcap Can Help You Sleep

In the habit of pouring yourself a New Fashioned before hitting the hay? That's a big no-no, scientists say. Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it also makes you much more likely to wake up later in the night when the effects wear off.

4. Myth: Can't Sleep? Just Stay in Bed and It’ll Happen

This one seems sensible. Aren’t we all triggered to fall asleep by just being in bed? The research indicates otherwise. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, the best thing to do is get up, do whatever you want (like read another chapter of that book club novel), and come back to bed when you’re tired. One important thing during that activity: avoid blue light. The blue light emitted by digital devices like TVs, smartphones, computers, and tablets can disrupt your sleep cycle.

5. Myth: If You Toss and Turn, You’re Not Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Turns out there’s no real relationship, at least not one that’s known at the moment, between movement during the night and sleep quality. The researchers note that it’s perfectly normal to move around at night. Move around all you like!

Though adequate sleep is essential for health and wellbeing, getting the recommended seven hours per night can be easier said than done. Even taking small steps, like going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night, will make a big difference. These simple strategies to get more rest can help, too.


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