By this point in human history, you’d think we’d pretty much have sleep figured out.
The average American spends roughly 22 years of their life catching ZZZ’s, and if you think about it, it’s one of the few activities you can be counted on to do almost every single day.
For some reason, though, a surprising number of myths about sleep remain extremely common.
While it’s true that there’s a lot science still doesn’t understand when it comes to sleep, a lot of these myths are just plain wrong.
You Can Train Your Body to Need Less Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every single night.
The typical American, however, only gets 6.8 hours a night – making sleep deprivation one of the biggest public health crises in the US today.
Now, we all know at least one friend who talks about how they don’t need eight hours a night, and can get by on, say, five or six.
In fact, some people might tell you that they actually feel more tired when they’re getting more sleep!
The truth is, though, it’s not possible to cheat your body forever.
It’s true that sleeping in can often leave you feeling groggy for much of the day – however, this isn’t caused by the amount of sleep you’re getting.
Instead, it’s a result of you messing up your circadian rhythms.
These roughly once-daily cycles cause certain hormones to be released at certain times of the day.
At night, for instance, your pineal gland secretes the hormone melatonin, causing you to start feeling tired.
In the mornings, meanwhile, your brain is wired to wake up and get ready for the day.
The thing is, though, these cycles only work if you’re consistent.
So if you’re used to going to bed at midnight and waking up at 6 in the morning, you’re going to feel pretty tired if, on the weekends, you sleep in till 10 in the morning.
This isn’t the extra sleep making you tired, though – it’s the hitch in your sleep/wake cycle!
No matter what, getting the right amount of sleep is essential to staying healthy and keeping alert.
If You Can’t Fall Asleep, It’s Best to Just Wait
For many people, unfortunately, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t as simple as just setting aside enough time each night.
Insomnia is one of the most common public health issues in the world, affecting roughly one in four Americans every year.
Many of these are cases of acute insomnia – that is, short-term sleeplessness, usually brought on by stressful life events.
There are, however, more than three million cases of chronic insomnia in the US every year – that is, insomnia that lasts at least three nights a week for three months or more.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, your first instinct may be to simply lie there and wait for sleep to come.
After all, sleep comes when you’re in bed, so if you can just lie in bed for long enough, eventually the sleep will come… right?
In reality, this is one of the most counterproductive sleep strategies you can try.
Lying in bed trying to make yourself fall asleep can easily backfire in some pretty spectacular ways.
For one thing, it’s a really easy way to stress yourself out.
You can’t just force yourself to sleep – and in fact, the more you think about it, the longer it’s likely to take.
Because of this, most sleep experts recommend getting out of bed and doing something else if you’ve been lying awake for more than 20 minutes.
While this might seem kind of backwards, especially if it’s already pretty late at night, there are few things worse for sleep than trying to force it into happening.
Instead, try making yourself a cup of herbal tea, listening to some music, or settling down in a quiet place to read.
However, do not try looking at any kind of electronics.
The blue light from most modern LED screens inhibits the release of melatonin, one of the most important hormones for sleep.
Alcohol Is Good for Sleep
Alcohol is another commonly misused method when trying to get to sleep.
We all know how drowsy alcohol makes us once we’ve had enough, so it seems like it makes sense to use it as an easy way to get better sleep.
Once again, however, there’s no shortcut to high-quality rest.
While alcohol may make you tired in the short-term, it causes major problems in the quality of your sleep.
For the first part of the night – the part where you’re sleeping off the alcohol – you’ll be getting far less REM sleep than normal.
REM sleep is vital to many of sleep’s most rejuvenating effects, so even if you’re getting the same amount of sleep you normally do, you won’t be waking up feeling nearly as refreshed as normal.
Alcohol also wreaks havoc with your body’s daily hormonal cycles.
While the drug is in effect, it makes your body feel far more tired than it normally would.
Once its effects wear off, however, your body tends to think it’s morning – meaning the later hours of the night are also far less restful than normal.
After a night of hard drinking, you might find yourself waking up even earlier than you normally do, even if you were up late just a few hours before.
You’re also far more likely to experience interrupted sleep during the early morning hours.
Some of these awakenings may be very brief – so brief, in fact, that you won’t even remember them when you finally get up.
However, they serve to interrupt your natural sleep cycles, preventing you from getting the deep sleep you need.
Because of this, alcohol is actually one of the worst things you can do for your sleep.
Not only does it lower the quality of your sleep for the entire night, but it can also force you to wake up far earlier than you want to!
Mattresses Double in Weight Every 10 Years
Another common sleep myth is that, every ten years, your mattress doubles in weight as a result of built-up skin, sweat, and dust mites.
Thankfully, this myth turns out to be pretty much completely false.
While it’s true that your body lets out quite a bit of sweat while you sleep, most of this either evaporates or gets absorbed by your sheets.
Dust mites do also tend to accumulate in mattresses over time.
According to a report by Ohio State University, the typical used mattress has anywhere from 100,00 to 10 million dust mites living in it.
What’s more, as much as 10% of the weight of a two-year-old pillow can be made up of dead dust mites and their poop.
An easy way to get around all this grossness is to just replace your mattress and pillow when you’re supposed to.
Higher-end memory foam pillows, however, can last as long as three years.
If you’re particularly worried about the amount of dust mites in your mattress – if you have a dust mite allergy, for instance – you can always consider investing in a dust mite-proof encasement.
This will make it impossible for new dust mites to enter your mattress, and will eventually starve out the ones that are there.
However, since most dust mite allergies are usually allergies to feces, rather than the bugs themselves, this might not completely clear up all your symptoms.
You Should Never Wake a Sleepwalker
Finally, our last sleep myth has to deal with sleepwalkers.
Many people believe that waking up a person who is sleepwalking can cause them serious psychological harm or cause them to panic and hurt themselves.
It is true that physically shaking a sleepwalking awake can be somewhat dangerous, as there is a chance they will panic and briefly attack you before they can get their bearings.
However, if you see a sleepwalker, it’s usually a good idea to make sure that they get back to bed fairly quickly.
They may hurt themselves if they’re out sleepwalking for too long, so always try to gently direct them back towards their bedroom.
If you can’t get them to listen to you, it may become necessary to wake them up.
Don’t worry – this isn’t dangerous, although it may be somewhat more difficult to get them awake than it would be normally.
Just stand a safe distance away from them and wrench them awake with a loud noise.
Conclusion: The Top Sleep Myths
Sleep myths are astoundingly common in our world today, and you can’t believe everything you hear.
Poor education can lead to poor-quality sleep and unhealthy habits, so it’s important to keep informed.
Above all, remember that there’s no medically sound way to get around sleep.
Keep informed and keep your sleep a high priority, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see your life improve!