There are many common myths about sleep. You may hear them frequently, and may even experience them as well. It is important to know that sleep myths aren’t supported by current scientific evidence and are likely contributing to your sleep problems.
Once you understand the importance of sleep, you will realize how much your overall health, wellness, self-care and well-being improve. Now is the time to learn the common sleep myths so that you can feel more empowered to make positive changes to your life.
1. You will not suffer from health problems from lack of sleep
Would you prioritize your sleep if you knew that you would die sooner if you consistently slept less than 7-8 hours a night?
Researchers from the United Kingdom and Italy found that people who generally slept for less than five to seven hours a night were 12 percent more likely to experience a premature death.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you are at higher risk of developing health problems. Adequate sleep, on the other hand, helps stabilize your mood, appetite, memory, energy and boosts your immune system. If you’re not sure how to start making changes, check out my article on 8 tips to finally say goodbye to your sleep problems.
2. Sleep deprivation doesn’t affect your appetite
Lack of sleep lowers your metabolic rate and increases your stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline). As a result, you will be cranky, easily frustrated and likely to eat more.
Do you remember the last time you stayed up late and woke up early? Did you notice that you had less self control and reached for the donuts in your office kitchen when you usually avoid desserts?
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body will have higher levels of the hormone leptin. Leptin signals to your body to stop eating when you’re full. Decreased leptin leads to you wanting to eat more carbohydrates and feeling more hungry.
Guess what happens if you are chronically sleep deprived? You begin to gain weight because your brain signals to your body that you are hungry and need more carbohydrates for energy.
To avoid this unpleasant cycle, try this instead. If you had a poor night’s sleep and feel tired, go outside and take a short brisk walk.
Getting exposed to fresh air and sunlight will boost your energy naturally, and you’re less likely to reach for unhealthy treats during the middle of the day.
3. Drinking alcohol before bed helps you fall sleep
Do you think having a glass of wine before bed will help you fall and stay asleep?
Unfortunately, alcohol may help you fall asleep, but that’s where the benefits end. According to Rebecca Robbins, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU, alcohol traps you in the lighter stages of sleep and dramatically reduces the quality of your rest at night.
“Alcohol continues to pull you out of rapid eye movement and the deeper stages of sleep, causing you to wake up not feeling restored.”Rebecca Robins, Postdoctoral Fellow NYU
Avoid alcohol at night because it will negatively impact the quality and quantity of your sleep. Try having a cup of my favorite chamomile tea or a cup of warm milk with cinnamon. You will ease into sleep and wake up feeling more refreshed.
4. It’s okay to stay up, you can make-up for it on the weekend!
You may think that it’s okay if you sleep less during the week. You can always make-up for sleep on weekends right?
“When we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to “pay back” if it becomes too big.”Sleepfoundation.org
Although sleeping in on weekends might help you feel more rested, it will not make up for the sleep debt you are incurring during the week.
Dr. Matthew Walker talks about sleep debt in his book “Why We Sleep.” He explains that it is never possible to make-up the debt that you accumulate over the week, on weekends.
In addition, when you sleep later on weekends, it affects your circadian rhythm (your internal clock). This makes it harder to get back to your regular sleep schedule during the work week.
Try your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
5. You’re not depressed!? You’re just tired right?
The most intriguing facet of sleep is how it impacts your mental and emotional health. Sleep allows our body to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. This is critical for your self-care and wellness, as it helps your body reset.
When you sleep, you are giving your brain an opportunity to process all the activities and events of the day. Memories are saved and information that is not needed is filtered out.
You feel rested and more relaxed the following day, ready to face whatever comes your way.
Imagine you are constantly sleep deprived and you are denying your brain the period of “rest and digest” it needs to go back to a state of equilibrium and balance.
Since you’re sleepy, you rely on caffeine to wake up. This activates your body’s sympathetic nervous system and you’re in a state of “fight or flight.”
In his research, Dr. Matthew Walker found that sleep deprivation excessively boosts the part of the brain most closely connected to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.
According to the study, the amygdala, the region of the brain responsible for your “fight or flight” response, goes into overdrive on no sleep. As a result, the prefrontal cortex (the command center for logical reasoning), shuts down, and prevents the release of chemicals needed to calm down the “fight-or-flight” reflex.
If you are in this chronic state of sleep deprivation your brain is flooded with stress hormones. When this happens, your brain and body experience inflammation. Over time, you will put yourself at risk of developing a mental illness.
Sleep is a critical part of restoring your mind and body. When you prioritize your sleep, you realize how much better you feel.
It is important to first understand that sleep deprivation is linked to physical and mental health problems. This is profound because people who are chronically sleep-deprived have a higher risk of stroke, diabetes, weight gain, depression and anxiety.
Next, sleeping in on weekends won’t help you make up your sleep debt from the week. You may feel better because you’re sleeping more, but you can never catch up on the sleep you missed during the week. Lastly, drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it actually prevents you from getting quality restorative deep sleep.
What sleep myths have you heard recently? Have you made any changes to your lifestyle that positively impacted your sleep? Why do you think sleep is important? Please share your stories and comments below.