A recent study on sleep myths concluded there are three very commonly held beliefs about sleep that are simply not supported by scientific evidence, and in fact could be causing harm. The three sleep myths that were “debunked” in this study were, the following: loud snoring is not a health concern, getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep is normal, and having an alcoholic beverage before bed is a good way to fall asleep.
Here are 6 myths about sleep that are affecting our health
These three commonly held myths are simply not true, and in fact have potential side-effects. But there are even more commonly held beliefs about sleep that are also detrimental to health.
1|Watching TV before bed is a great way to relax
It may be a great way to relax, but the blue light emitted from behind the screens of many devices, including TVs, cause a suppression of melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for setting our circadian rhythm, and what research reveals is that too much blue light exposure, especially at night, begins to shift the circadian rhythm in ways that actually dysregulates sleep. It is thought by some that blue light exposure is a large contributing factor for people not getting enough sleep.
2| It doesn’t matter what time of day you sleep
Napping may be a great way to relax from a stressful day, and “reset,” but in terms of our body’s ability to recover, repair and rejuvenate, we need to sleep at night. Our body’s natural circadian rhythm, governed by melatonin and environmental light cues, is a primitive system in our brain that tells us to go to sleep at night, and get up in the morning. This is the optimal time to be sleeping, and generally when people are able to get an extended 7+ period of uninterrupted sleep. Many studies have been conducted on shift workers who sleep during the day, and this has proven to be less than ideal. There are many factors which can disrupt sleep during the day, and the effort needed to block out light entirely, and to stay on a consistent schedule of day sleep is very difficult, resulting in less than ideal long-term sleep patterns. These dysregulated sleep patterns lead to long-term sleep deficits, which are harmful to health.
3| Being able to fall asleep anywhere, at anytime, is a sign of healthy sleep
Perhaps if you are a Buddhist monk who is able to regulate bodily functions to such a high level that you can sleep whenever you want, this may be healthy. But, generally being able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat is a sign that you are not sleeping, and are actually suffering from extreme sleep deprivation. In fact, this is typically a symptom of sleep apnea.
4| A drink before bed improves sleep by helping to fall asleep faster
Having a drink before bed may seem innocuous, and even beneficial by allowing you to fall asleep faster. However, alcohol can prevent the brain from going into deep sleep, and often has an effect of waking people up 2-3 hours after they’ve fallen asleep as the alcohol begins to metabolize in the body. Many people who have midnight insomnia and drink alcohol before bed, find improvement in their sleep when they discontinue the night cap.
5| Snoring is harmless
For some this may be true, however loud snoring, aside from keeping your partner awake (if you have one), can be a sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be a very serious condition that is associated with cardiovascular and neurological symptoms over time, due to the lack of oxygen that is getting to the brain, and the stress that this puts on the heart over the long haul.
6| “I am totally fine with 4-5 hours of sleep a night”
This may seem true, and for an extremely small subset of the population may be the case, however, for most this is far from healthy. As stated above, sleep is a time for the body to rejuvenate, and this takes time. Recent studies on sleep indicate that 7 hours of sleep is the minimum amount of sleep necessary to maintain good health, with additional health benefits the more sleep you get, up to 9 hours at night. If this is a myth you hold, consider your normal functioning, health and wellness, and what it could be if your mental state was a little more acute, and you needed a little less coffee, sugar, or other stimulants, and were a little more emotionally stable throughout the day. These are all things that change with adequate sleep. Not to mention physiological health of your brain, heart and immune system.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.