8 Popular Sleeping Myths Debunked by Science

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8 Popular Sleeping Myths Debunked by Science

As an extraordinary state that transcends the realms of both physicality and psychology, sleep has become somewhat of an enigma – even in the world of science.

A recent survey from Carpetright revealed that over a quarter (28%) of us aren’t satisfied with the quality of sleep we’re getting. With so much conflicting information out there, it’s hard to know what advice to follow.

So it’s time to set things straight, once and for all. Our experts are here to debunk the most popular myths of our time – so that you can get a better night’s sleep.

You can “catch up” on lost sleep

Lisa Artis, spokesperson for The Sleep Council says: “A few days of lost sleep can have adverse effects, including increased daytime sleepiness and worsened daytime performance.” She continues by adding, “recovery sleep over a weekend may not reverse all the effects of lost sleep during the week.” So, stick to your regular bedtimes and your body will thank you!

Napping is bad for your sleep cycle

Adam Atkinson, personal trainer at Diets Don’t Work highlights that “short naps of up to 20 minutes avoid dipping into deep REM sleep, while still being highly restorative and beneficial”. So it may be best to stick to power naps, as “longer sleeps during the day can indeed lead to difficulty in falling asleep at night.”

Yawning is a sign that you’re tired

Alison Gardiner, co-creator of Sleepstation suggests that yawning can mean more than sleep deprivation, as “some people yawn when they are stressed or anxious”. She also mulls over the phenomenon of contagious yawning: “It still remains an unexplained mystery to scientists. We are not the only species to yawn when others around us do so, chimpanzees and dogs do as well.”

Eating cheese gives you nightmares

The good news is: there’s no solid evidence to suggest that cheese causes nightmares. However Gardiner warns that “eating heavy meals before bed can interrupt your sleep, so maybe don’t pull out the cheeseboard just before bedtime.” Artis, on the other hand, recommends it as a bedtime snack: “Calcium, found in cheese, is a natural sleep aid as it contains tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to produce melatonin (the sleep inducing hormone).”

Exercising before bed helps you sleep

Artis and Gardiner praise exercise as: “highly beneficial, helping to banish stress before bedtime and lower your body’s temperature, which induces better sleep.” However, Atkinson warns that “endorphins and cortisol make us more alert and less likely to sleep,” so it’s best to stick to “slower, meditative forms of exercise close to bedtime,” with yoga being our top choice for its relaxation and sleep benefits.

Waking up a sleepwalker is dangerous

According to our experts, it’s a myth that waking up a sleepwalker can cause a heart attack, shock or even kill them. However, Gardiner comments: “Sleepwalking normally happens in slow wave sleep, a very deep stage of sleep. This means they can become extremely confused, and can even end up lashing out or physically harming the person who woke them.” Artis suggests “gently returning them to their bed — and if that doesn’t work, make loud noises from a distance to try wake them.”

You don’t need a new mattress

The foundation to a good night’s sleep is a comfortable, supportive bed. Atkinson goes as far as to say that “your old mattress could quite literally be killing you.” Artis explains why: “After seven years, even a good quality bed will have been subjected to a lot of wear and tear – over 20,000 hours of it – and won’t be performing at anything like its best anymore.” So, if you’ve had your mattress for more than 7 or 8 years, it may be worth investing in a new one.

Everyone needs 8 hours of sleep a night

Whilst eight hours is generally considered the optimal amount of sleep, Artis and Gardiner believe it varies from person to person as everyone’s requirements are different. They agree that the best indicator of good sleep is how you feel the next day. Atkinson, on the other hand, discusses leading sleep studies from the University of California: “Any human being getting less than six hours sleep a night will suffer a large range of health problems, from increased chances of disease to weight gain.” So play it safe, and aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

For more myth-busting tips from the experts, read 15 Common Sleeping Myths Debunked by Science.

About the sleep experts

  • Alison Gardiner: Co-creator of Sleepstation, an online insomnia treatment based on CBTi that has been clinically proven to work better than face-to-face treatment.
  • Lisa Artis: Spokesperson for the The Sleep Council, an impartial, advisory organisation that raises awareness of the importance of a good night’s sleep to health and wellbeing.
  • Adam Atkinson: Personal Trainer at Diets Don’t Work who believes that sleep is the third pillar of health and fitness.

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