Getting a good night’s sleep is hard enough without all the conflicting, confusing, sometimes flat-out incorrect information out there. But grab a face mask and a soft pillow: Here, we clear up the most common misconceptions so you can rest easy.
I’ll catch up on my sleep over the weekend.
As nice as it might feel to lounge in bed all weekend, sleep isn’t something you can deposit in the bank and withdraw at a later date, when you need it. If you attempt to catch up on sleep on your days off work, it can actually lead to insomnia later in the week. Michael Thorpy, the director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, recommends putting yourself on a sleep schedule and sticking to it seven days a week. “It’s the single most important thing you can do to improve your energy level,” he says.
A glass of red wine (OK, three) helps me get a good night’s sleep.
Yes, wine makes you feel relaxed—and maybe even sleepy. But even if it helps you fall asleep quickly at the beginning of the night, you could end up tossing and turning, since alcohol interferes with the restorative functions of sleep by disrupting the sleep cycle. “Alcohol changes your sleep patterns, and once it clears your system—usually four to five hours after you fall asleep—the brain becomes hyperaroused, and you wake up,” says Meir Kryger, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine who specializes in sleep medicine and the author of A Woman’s Guide to Sleep Disorders.
A warm, cozy bedroom helps me fall asleep.
Nope. Your bedroom should be no warmer than 68 degrees. “That’s the optimal temperature for sleeping, because it facilitates a drop in core body temperature, which will help you fall and stay asleep,” says Rubin Naiman, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson. Another reason to turn down the thermostat? A cold bedroom might also help you lose weight. According to a study by the American Diabetes Association, sleeping in chilly temperatures may help speed up your metabolism and burn a few more calories throughout the day.
My iPad is giving me insomnia.
This is sometimes true, sometimes false. Allow us to explain: Tablet computers give off light, and light plays a crucial role in the sleep cycle—namely, by ending it. “Think of light as a drug that promotes wakefulness,” says Helene A. Emsellem, the medical director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The short-wave blue light emitted by most tablets, smartphones, and TVs has been show to suppress melatonin, a hormone that normally helps you drift away into slumber. But a 2013 Mayo Clinic study found that holding your tablet or smartphone at least 14 inches away from your face reduced the amount of blue light you absorbed and eliminated its effect on melatonin. You can also try dimming your screen or switching to the black background when you’re reading, which will give off less sleep-disturbing light.
I need to sleep eight hours every night.
The eight-hour rule has been repeated so often that most people accept it as fact, but it’s not exactly accurate. “There is no magic metric for how much sleep people need,” says Safwan Badr, a former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. What actually matters is that you stay asleep long enough pass through several different phases of sleep that, together, make you feel well-rested the next day. It is true that most adults function best when they get eight hours of sleep, but that doesn’t apply to everyone. Some need ten, and a very small number—less than 1 percent of the population—feel fully rested after six hours, says Penelope Lewis, the director of the Sleep and Memory Lab at the University of Manchester in England and the author of The Secret World of Sleep.
I shouldn’t do anything stimulating before bed.
For the most part, this is true. The exception? Sex. “Most people find that it makes them sleepy, even though it’s arousing,” says Kryger. There you have it: another excuse.
A long nap will make everything better.
Too much napping during the day can actually mess with your sleep schedule. It’s sort of a vicious circle: “If you nap for too long, you’ll go into deep sleep, and that will decrease your body’s need to get more that night,” says Phyllis C. Zee, the director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. If you do take a nap, keep it to 30 minutes or less.
Wearing socks in bed keep me awake.
The opposite is actually true: Slipping on a pair of socks before going to bed might make it easier to get a good night’s sleep. “Keeping your extremities warm signals your body to get rid of heat from your core, and a drop in core temperature is necessary for deep, quality sleep at night,” says Zee.
Food after dark is bad for sleep.
Good news for late eaters: A small, carbohydrate-heavy snack with a bit of protein an hour or two before bed triggers the brain to start producing serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter, says Joy Bauer, the author of Joy Bauer’s Food Cures. Her favorite nighttime snacks are a scoop of light ice cream with berries or a rice cake with a teaspoon of peanut butter.
BY STEPHANIE SALTZMAN
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