Sleep myths busted

By Jill Levy

For a high percentage of adults, getting a good night’s sleep is no easy task. Whether it’s due to a packed schedule, stress, discomfort or other issues, there’s simply some nights when falling and staying asleep can pose a serious challenge. 

Everybody has their own tips and tricks when it comes to battling sleep-related issues — such as elaborate bedtime routines, post-dinner snacks, supplements and sleep positions that may be helpful — yet, much sleep advice is based on personal experience and preferences, rather than solid evidence. 

Sleep Myths, Busted

Below is the truth about seven commonly held sleep myths, as well as tips for making the most of the time you spend in bed at night:

Myth #1: You should sleep in on the weekends (or your days off).

The Truth: Sticking to a consistent sleep-wake-cycle is considered the best way to get restful sleep and avoid “sleep debt.”

Try This: Aim to head to bed each night around the same time, and ideally to get up at roughly the same time each morning (give or take about 15 minutes or so). This includes on the weekends or when you have the freedom to sleep in. A consistent routine helps to regulate your circadian rhythm (your “internal clock”) and essentially trains your body to know when to feel sleepy so you easily doze off.

While sleeping in a little longer than usual now and then can help you feel more rested, it’s not a good strategy for coping with ongoing “sleep debt,” since what your body really needs is adequate sleep on a regular basis

Myth #2: Using an alarm clock is a good way to wake up on time.

The Truth: If you have to rely on an alarm clock every morning to startle you out of sleep, chances are you’re not getting enough rest or going to sleep early enough.

Try This: Experiment with going to sleep 30 to 60 minutes earlier to see if it helps. Pushing your bedtime up in 15-minute increments may be the best way to go about this.

If you find that it’s hard to wake up at a decent time on your own because you’re struggling to fall or stay asleep, consider talking with a specialist or your healthcare professional. You may be dealing with something else. 

Myth #3: Eating a snack at night can help you sleep more deeply.

The Truth: The way that meal timing affects sleep varies from person to person. Some sleep best if they avoid eating during the three or four hours prior to going to sleep, such as if digestion is a concern, while others do best with a bedtime snack that perhaps includes some complex carbs and protein.

Try This: Experiment with different meal schedules at night to see what works for you best. For example, eat an early dinner (preferably one that doesn’t include agitating foods that are too spicy, sugary or acidic) and avoid snacking afterwards, then monitor how well you sleep. 

Next, try having a lighter dinner and a small, health-focused snack closer to bedtime, such as sprouted toast with nut butter, a small collagen protein smoothie, or some “moon milk” (made with spices like turmeric, and often adaptogen herbs such as ashwagandha that can help provide restful sleep support while alleviating the effects of stress and tension). 

You may also want to try keeping a food journal so you can track your results.

Myth #4: Exercising at night will keep you up.

The Truth: This also depends on the person. It’s generally thought that exercising within about two hours of going to bed may make it harder for some people to feel sleepy; however, some find exercising and stretching afterwards, perhaps followed by a warm shower, to be overall relaxing.

Try This: Just like with meal timing, experiment with exercising at different times of day (and at different intensities) to see what suits you best. If you do exercise close to bedtime, consider keeping it moderate-intensity and then winding down afterwards by showering, relaxing in a dim room, and doing anything else that makes you feel calm.

Myth #5: Adults need 8 hours of sleep every night, throughout the whole year.

The Truth: Most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep each night to receive optimal health benefits; however, the amount may change a bit from day to day and also throughout the year.

Try This: Carve out between 7 and 9 hours per night to sleep, depending on your specific needs and also the time of the year. For example, you may need more during darker months of the year, when you’re more active or have more stress.  

Myth #6: If you can’t sleep, lay in bed, meditate or count backwards.

The Truth: When you’re laying in bed unable to fall asleep, it might actually be more helpful to get out of bed and go into another dark room. This can keep you from feeling anxious about your inability to sleep, and help take your mind off of whatever’s keeping you up.

Try This: Experts recommend sitting in another room for about 15 to 20 minutes while doing something soothing, such as meditating or reading, until you feel sleepy again. 

Myth #7: All “blue light” exposure is detrimental for sleep.

The Truth: We actually get the majority of blue light exposure from the sun, which can be beneficial during the day time for regulating our circadian rhythms (not to mention for vitamin D synthesis). However, blue light exposure at night from electronics too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect.

Try This: Avoid blue light from your television, phone, tablet, computer, etc. during the two hours leading up to bedtime. If you can’t do this, at least use a filter on your devices in order to cut down blue light emissions or wear blue light blocking glasses.

Rather than surfing the web or watching TV in bed, establish a healthy sleep routine that helps you better unwind, such as reading a book, stretching, journaling or taking a warm bath.

Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.

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