10 Myths About Sleep That Have Been Keeping You Up Your Entire Life

by Caroline Burke

Sleep can be an elusive mistress. Sometimes it feels like the more you want it, the harder it is to find and hold onto. What's more is that one of the many myths about sleep that we constantly perpetuate is that it should be treated as an optional benefit or a weekend hobby, when in truth, it's as vital to your health and survival as breathing, eating, or drinking water. It sounds a little boring, but you should think of sleep as one of the central parts of each of your days, one that allows you to fully enjoy your waking moments and be as present as possible so you're not dragging yourself through life like a complete and utter zombie.

Sleep, when given the respect it deserves, should be something you look forward to. It's honestly difficult for me to understand how anyone would rather stay up for hours on end scrolling through Twitter or watching Netflix when they could be snuggled up in bed, but I respect and acknowledge that some people like sleep less than others. Still that's exactly why it's so important that we all know the truth about how sleep actually affects our lives, and how it doesn't. Here are 10 myths about sleeping that you've likely thought to be true your entire life, even though they're totally false.

You Can Make Up For Lost Sleep By Sleeping More Later

If you pull an all-nighter to study for an exam, you're not going to technically make up for it by sleeping a lot the next night. Although the body can recover a few hours of lost sleep, it can't totally bridge the gap if you're going several nights in a row with insufficient sleep.

In other words, sleeping in on a Saturday will help you a little if you've had a long week, but it won't bring back those three nights you stayed up until 2 a.m. watching Stranger Things instead of catching some shut-eye. Your ideal sleep strategy should be to get a moderate amount of sleep regularly, rather than to go for a sleep marathon one night out of the week.

There's No Correlation Between Poor Sleep And Disease

Plenty of people think that the worst result of poor sleep is feeling tired the next day, but that's not true. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Poor sleep can lead to higher blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and can even trigger an onset of diabetes, as insufficient sleep gets in the way of the body's ability to produce insulin.

If You're Tired During The Day, It Means You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

Daytime sleepiness can happen even if you slept decently the night before. If you feel constantly drowsy, or you keep napping during the day to keep up your energy despite sleeping for seven to nine hours a night, it's probably a sign that something else is up. You might not be getting the proper REM sleep, you may have a condition like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, or you may be dealing with a totally separate, underlying issue leading to excessive fatigue.

For example, endometriosis and fibromyalgia are both illnesses that cause chronic fatigue and often go without diagnosis.

The Older You Get, The Less Sleep You Need

One of the more common myths about sleeping is that only young people need "good" sleep, and that, as you get older, you end up needing five to seven hours of sleep instead of seven to nine.

Sleep patterns change as we age, but the amount of sleep we need does not. Elderly people might sleep less throughout the night, but for that reason, they also might need to nap during the day to compensate. No matter what age you are, the golden range to aim for is seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Insomnia Is Characterized By Not Being Able To Fall Asleep

Most people assume that insomnia is defined only by an inability to fall asleep. While it's certainly correlated with that, difficulty with falling asleep is only one of several symptoms of insomnia. Other symptoms of this sleep disorder include waking up throughout the night, waking up too early, and having sleep that doesn't allow you to reach the deeper levels of your REM cycle.

If you're regularly having trouble sleeping, you should definitely do these two things at the very least: Start a sleep journal to keep track of how long you sleep for and how many times you wake up each night, and see a doctor at your earliest convenience to rule out other potential causes.

Driving With Loud Music On Or The Windows Down Will Keep You Awake

We've all been there: You're driving on the highway, fighting to stay awake, so you put on Taylor Swift's Red album as a solution to keeping your eyes open and on the road ahead.

Although it might feel like a quick blast of cold air or a blasting guitar riff will keep you awake, that's not actually true, and those stimulants won't delay your fatigue. What's more, drinking a stimulant like caffeine won't actually alleviate your exhaustion for longer than 30 minutes past consumption. Your best option when exhaustion overwhelms you during a long drive is to pull over at a safe location, like a crowded rest stop, and give yourself the time for a quick cat nap.

A Good Way To Fall Asleep Is To Put A TV Show On

Sometimes it can feel like the only way to fall asleep is to turn an old TV series on low volume and fall asleep to the dialogue of characters who feel like your old friends. But watching any sort of screen before bed is the last thing you should do as a sleep strategy. The blue light that comes off your smartphone and laptop screen — originally used so that you can see your screen during the day — fools your brain into thinking you should be awake, and therefore delays your sleep instead of encouraging it.

Put your phone down and try counting sheep instead, my friend.

Drinking A Glass Of Wine Before Bed Is A Helpful Sleeping Strategy

Although alcohol is a depressant and can therefore make you sleepy, drinking before bed actually gives you a worse night's sleep than if you drank nothing at all.

A 2013 study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research revealed that drinking alcohol before bed does something funky with your sleep cycle: It makes you fall asleep faster and gives you deeper sleep in the first half of the night, then increases the amount of sleep disruption in the second half. In other words, it makes you think you're getting a better night's sleep, then makes it worse.

All Sleep Is Good Sleep

It doesn't matter if you're sleeping nine or 15 hours, unless you're getting the right type of sleep. Your REM cycle contains four different stages of sleep, all of which affect a varying depth of consciousness. The third and fourth stages are your "deep sleep" stages, otherwise known as your REM sleep, and they're the most important part for your health and bodily rejuvenation.

However, we spend most of our time in stages one and two of the sleep cycle, and use of medication, alcohol, or drugs can often suppress the body's ability to reach that deeper sleep in stages three and four.

If You Can't Fall Asleep, You Should Lie In Bed And Keep Waiting

If you can't fall asleep, the best thing to do is to get up and do something that occupies your mind and your body for about 10 or 15 minutes. Consider a quiet, low-key activity, such as journaling or reading a book. This will help you reach sleep faster than if you were to lie in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering what you did to deserve this sleepless life.