Myths about sleep, about fatigue, and about the dangers of exhaustion are everywhere; they are rarely true, and sometimes even humourous. But, sleep is serious stuff – taken lightly, sleep deprivation can have hugely damaging effects on mental and physical health, and on family life and individual happiness. Here are seven top sleep myths, and the truth behind them:
- The more exhausted you are, the better you will sleep: In fact, as you become more and more overtired, you are likely to become easily agitated, overstimulated, and have a more difficult time getting to sleep than if you’d gone to bed when you were feeling ready for sleep (but not ready to pass out cold). Try to go to bed at around the same time every night, and before you are at the point of frantically and restlessly tossing and turning, to help your body slip easily into a deep, restful sleep.
- You can “train” yourself to sleep anywhere and everywhere: You can deprive yourself of nighttime sleep to a point that exhausts you and causes you to fall asleep anywhere and everywhere (like the middle of your child’s piano recital), but, if you can fall asleep in the middle of time square as the ball drops, it is because you are sleep-deprived, not a sleep champion.
- Lots of broken up rest is as good as a full night’s sleep: The damaging effects of sleep deprivation on our physical and mental wellness are becoming more widely known; however, what is discussed less but also incredibly important to know is that sleepquality is just as important as sleep duration. Interruptions to your sleep result in similar damaging effects as lack of sleep. Sleep occurs in phases, and any interruptions to your sleep cycle make your body start over, which means you might never reach the most restorative, deep, restful phases of sleep.
- It’s normal to nod off during afternoon meetings: It is normal to feel slightly more tired in the afternoon, based on how our circadian rhythm works. It is not, however, “normal” to wake up in a puddle of drool as your senior VP is asking who would like to take the lead on the next major account. If this is happening to you on a regular basis, you are – quite simply – sleep deprived. Take a few days off, catch up on those z’s, and head back to work refreshed and ready to take on the day! (or at least make it through the entire board meeting!)
- It’s better to skip the bedtime routine and just get to bed faster: Ever get home late, just wanting to crash, and decide to skip the whole teeth-brushing, face-washing, meditating nonsense? Well, aside from the fact that your partner likely won’t appreciate the morning halitosis, skipping the steps of your usual bedtime routine is likely to make it harder for you to fall asleep, rather than helping you drift off more quickly. Evidence shows that a consistent wind-down routine done every night before bed can help prepare your mind and body for sleep. Even if that’s just doing some easy stretches and reading a few pages of a book by a soft light, don’t skip these important steps on the way to Snoozetown.
- Surfing the net or watching TV before bed will help you get to sleep: While a wind-down routine is so important in leading us into a restful night’s sleep, staring at a screen while prepping for your nightly z’s is not recommended. Why? Television, videos, etc. rev up our minds and have the opposite effect that we’re looking for when trying to calm down pre-bedtime. Further, the light that’s emitted by these bright screens actually reduces the production of melatonin, the natural hormone that increases at bedtime to help us fall asleep.
There’s no way to catch up on sleep once it’s lost: What? Why the heck not?! If you are carrying around a “sleep debt,” it’s usually from missing out on sleep for multiple nights in a row, whether due to overwork, jet lag, stress, etc. “Paying back” the sleep debt is very important to restoring your physical and emotional well-being. If you’ve been up late working for the past few nights, or missed sleep on the red-eye while sitting
next to Chatty Cathy, you can gain this back by adding an extra couple of hours of sleep to your night for the rest of the week. Got a bigger sleep debt that spans a whole lot more than a few days? Take a vacation and focus on getting extra deep, restful sleep each night. And, most importantly, commit to getting more consistent sleep on a nightly basis going forward. Sleep is essential to a happy, healthy life.
My team and I provide loads of free sleep advice on our Facebook page. We welcome you to follow our tribe of sleep-passionate (or deprived) parents around the globe as we share tips, stories and the straight goods on sleep at WeeSleep and follow me on Instagram and Twitter so we can rock this #sleeprevolution together!