Debunking Sleep Myths

Posted by Doug Willen on

Debunking Sleep Myths
Debunking sleep myths that rob your health including sleep deprivation & watching TV in bed


How could something so natural be plagued with so many different opinions and flat out myths?

Today I want to help shed some light on 3 categories of sleep myths that could be robbing you of your health and well-being including sleep deprivation and watching TV in bed and give you 3 sleeping tips as well.

Let’s jump right in.

When should I go to sleep?

The first myth I want to debunk for you is the myth that it doesn’t matter when you go to sleep because it certainly does. In fact, it matters a great deal.

Let's say you're a night shift worker.

The unfortunate truth is that sleeping during the day, for the great majority of us, goes completely against our circadian rhythms. Meaning you're never going to have as high a level of health as if you were on the opposite schedule.

This disruption of circadian rhythms has been shown to increase the incidences of breast cancer, depression, diabetes, and lowering of your metabolism.
You're also more likely to have a higher mortality rate.

So, whenever possible, choose the sleeping pattern that most of us are doing, the one that lets the human body thrive by going to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up as it rises.

Now, if you struggle with insomnia, my recommendation is whatever you do, do not sleep during the day.

Be exhausted, be so tired that at nighttime, when you finally get to that bedtime hour, you're so exhausted you fall asleep. Over time this will help to create a pattern of sleep where you used to have insomnia.

Now, if you don't have insomnia and you're just sleep deprived, because maybe you're a young mom and you were up all night with your child that had a bad night's sleep, then a nap is a good idea as it can help you with sleep recovery and catching up.

I realize that some people just don't have that opportunity in their schedule to sleep at night and function during the day, but I suggest you try to make up for it when you can and if you ever do get a choice, switch schedules. This will help you avoid sleep deprivation.

What is sleep deprivation and is it bad?

Simply stated, sleep deprivation is not getting enough sleep.

While sleep deprivation could be a symptom of several underlying disorders for most of us it’s most likely caused by consistent sleep disturbances.
One of those disturbances that we have total control over is hitting the snooze button.

For some reason, unknown to me, there are people who believe this is better for you than getting up right away. The fact of the matter is that anytime you fragment your sleep, you're doing yourself a disservice.

If you're being woken up because there's loud noises on the street or from your next door neighbors that’s a problem, yes. But, if you do it to yourself with the snooze button in the morning, it's not a good idea. It messes you up.

From what I’ve seen, it interferes with the possibility of being mentally flexible and you're commonly going to have more mental exhaustion.

The best thing to do would be to decide what time you want to wake up in the morning, set the alarm for that exact time and when the alarm goes off, put your feet on the floor and get up!

Another cause of disturbed sleep that can lead to sleep deprivation is, this is a controversial one, watching TV in bed.Many people mistakenly believe that watching TV in bed gets you more relaxed. The fact is that it does not. It arouses you, it gets you more hyped up.

It's better to keep it separate. Don't even have TV in your bedroom. Get into a separate room, watch your TV, then transition to your bedroom and only use your bed as a place for sleep.

People that sleep in bed with their TV on or falling asleep while the TV is on and hoping this TV will turn off automatically or on a timer are setting themselves up for incomplete sleep, sleep disturbances and fragmented sleep. Not a good idea. Keep your sleep and your TV separate to reduce the possibility of deprivation.

What are some signs of sleep deprivation?

If you find yourself falling asleep anywhere, anytime and you blame it on boredom you’re probably sleep deprived.

There's no proof that boredom will make you fall asleep. Some people think a boring lecture will make them sleep or trigger sleep. But the fact is, if you're sleepy, if you're tired, if you're sleep deprived, boredom or anything else will trigger sleep, but boredom in itself does not equate to making you fall asleep.

In fact...

...falling asleep anytime, anywhere is not the sign of a good sleeper. If you have a person in your life that you think is funny because they can fall asleep anywhere, at a movie falling asleep at the theater, at a dinner, at a party, they just put their head down and they start falling asleep. That is a sign of a sleep deprived person.

Someone that is not getting enough sleep during the night, they might have sleep apnea, they might have other types of ailment, chronic illness, obstruction, or disturbances that are keeping them from getting a good night's sleep.

Don't use them as the benchmark of a good sleeper.

How much sleep do I need?

Have you met this person, “I only need 4 hours of sleep a night.”?

Before I totally debunk this myth let me just say that it might be possible. There has been some research that shows a phenotype that in fact, some people can do well and thrive on less than five hours of sleep, but this would be the tiniest part of the world population.

Chances are that you are probably not in that group. Most of us would do much better with seven hours of sleep or more. And if you're getting habitually less sleep, less than five hours sleep for example, it's going to affect your mental health, your metabolic condition, it's going to affect your immune system, it's going to affect your ability to thrive and be productive.

Don't make that your goal. Try to get seven hours of sleep. Try to get more if you can and see the difference for yourself.

As much as these people want to believe that their brain can adapt and function on less sleep it simply can’t.

The truth is, our bodies are meant to sleep more than five hours. That would be the healthiest. Just because you're doing it for a long time and you're telling yourself that you can thrive on less than five hours of sleep it might not be true.

You're going to be less alert during the day, you're going to have a compromised immune system which means you’re probably sick more often than you need to be. So whenever possible, try to get seven hours of sleep or more and you'll see a big difference.

But not too much more.

Excessive sleep isn't good either. Yes, seven, eight, nine hours of sleep if you're an adult would be fantastic when you can get it. An average of seven hours as an adult would be optimal. Now, depending on where you are in your life your sleep needs will be different.

A child needs more sleep. A toddler or infant needs a lot of sleep. On the other end of life the older adult has this stereotype that they need to eat dinner early, like the blue plate special so that they can get to sleep early.

Or that they might not stay asleep as well as we do in the earlier years of our lives because their bodies’ are in pain or they might have some health condition, maybe frequency of urination because of bladder control that they're getting up more. They need sleep like we all need sleep. And if a senior citizen can get seven hours of sleep a night, they're doing way better than a senior citizen that's sleeping less than that.

Then, there are some people who feel, “hey, if I can just stay in bed all day”, or “if I can stay in bed longer, I’ll be healthier”.

Sorry sleepyhead it doesn’t work like that.

A lot of times, the desire to stay in bed like that is a sign of depression. You just don't want to face the day so you just keep prolonging sleep, using sleep as a drug, the same way people use food as a drug or sex as a drug. All ways to avoid what's really going on in your life.

More sleep or excessive sleep is not better. Shoot for averages. We want that seven, eight hour average for the highest level of thriving in your life. Give it a try.

What happens if I have a night of bad sleep?

Even if you have a horrendous night of sleep you may feel crummy the next day, but your overall health will be fine.
Let's say you did an all nighter. You're not going to hurt your health in the long term because as soon as you get sleep recovery, you're going to be back on track so don't panic.

If you have a horrible night's sleep just forgive yourself and move on. Because the next night you can get back on track, get a good night's sleep and then again the next night and you'll be fine. You're not going to hurt your health in the long term. You're just fine.

My brain sleeps when I do, right?

It’s not uncommon to think that the brain is less active when we’re asleep, but it’s incorrect.

The fact is, the brain is actually more active when we sleep. If you think about it, REM, rapid eye movement, sleep is when our eyes and our brain are moving even though our eyelids are closed and we’re deep in the sleep cycle.

Also, while we're sleeping, we're going to get a higher amplitude on our EEG if we are measuring the brain’s electrical activity while sleeping.

Another thing that people don't realize is that your brain is actually eliminating neurotoxins while we sleep, which helps to rejuvenate the brain so that by the time you wake up in the morning, you're not only refreshed, but you're really cleansed in effect.

The brain is highly functional while we're sleeping, which is a good thing. Even though our bodies might not be. That's a good thing because that part of our body is resting and recovering but our brain is active.

3 Sleeping Tips

Tip #1 Get some exercise...anytime.

There is a false belief that exercise at night disturbs sleep. I know of no evidence of this. But, people believe that exercising before you go to sleep will amp you up and prevent you from really relaxing and getting to sleep. From my experience exercise at night dissipates stress. It helps to burn off the stress of the day and allow you to transition into a great night's sleep. If you personally have a hard time sleeping after exercise then by all means exercise earlier in the day. I believe exercise any time of day will help your sleep and that exercise just before you sleep does not disturb your sleep.

Tip #2 Cool off

I’ve met people that feel like a warmer bedroom is better for a good night's sleep.

Now I totally disagree with this one.

A colder room is much better than a warmer room. Not only according to me, but research shows that too. I guess the idea behind the warmer room is that you get snuggly under the covers and you stay warm and you sleep better. But in fact, if you have a colder room and then snuggle up in the covers, you're going to sleep deeper.

Our bodies just thrive in that place, try it yourself. If you're always using the warmer room, try to make it a little bit colder and see the difference for yourself. At least you can experiment with the room temperature and make your own determination.

Tip #3 Don’t worry about moving around

“Sound sleepers don't move much when they're sleeping.” NOPE.

Fact is, it doesn't really matter. If you're sleeping well, you can move around. People that sleep well move. That's what we do when we sleep. Don't worry about that.

If you look at the ages of 18 to 30, we move a lot in our sleep during those ages, but movement does not determine the depth or the quality of sleep so don't worry about it.
Putting the myths to bed

There we have it, debunking 3 categories of sleep myths and 3 tips for better sleeping.

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