Myths about sleep are surprisingly common, considering that most of us spend a third of our lives in bed. Let’s bust a few of those myths
Why are there so many myths about sleep? Given that we all experience sleep regularly, and scientists study it constantly, you’d figure that we’d pretty much have a handle on it by now. But maybe that very ubiquity has resulted in the confusion we so often experience.
Several years back, we busted a handful of sleep myths regarding snoring, the relative need for sleep according to age, the possibility of surviving on two or three hours of sleep a night, and sleepwalking. But there are plenty of myths where those came from, so let’s tackle a few more.
Myth 1: A big meal before bedtime will give you nightmares!
When looked at strictly, this is in fact a myth, because no researcher anywhere has ever linked any food product to bad dreams.
However, let’s be logical here: there’s no doubt that eating too much, or eating the wrong things, can disturb your sleep. For one thing, stuffing yourself can make you uncomfortable, which can hinder your ability to fall asleep, and secondary effects like heartburn and stomachache can wake you in the night.
Furthermore, if the food you eat is high in carbs or sugar, it can produce an energy spike that can also hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay there.
Myth 2: You need eight hours of sleep to function properly.
Media boffins often quote this factoid as gospel, but there’s nothing special about eight hours’ worth of sleep. Some of us can’t get by with less than 10, while others do just fine on six or so. Researchers suggest that 7.5 hours is a better number, based on the standard 90-minute sleep cycles they’ve identified.
If anything, the eight-hour number is an average, and it’s a good idea to try to hit it. But as with most things, you’ll need to experiment with your sleep timing to determine what works best for you, You might discover that you’re at you are perkiest with six or seven hours of sleep most nights.
Myth 3: You can catch up on lost sleep.
While naps can help you continue to function if you limit their length to 15-20 minutes in the early afternoon (1-3 PM), recent research indicates that lost sleep is gone for good. Sorry — even if you try to catch up on your sleep on the weekends, all you’re going to do is disrupt your sleep patterns further.
Your best bet is to simply get back on track. Hit the hay at your scheduled bedtime, and get up when the alarm clock sounds off. Don’t try to game the system. Put this and other myths about sleep aside, and catch those Z’s when you should.