The secret to a good night’s sleep is a topic that generates plenty of heated debate, and there’s lots of conflicting advice out there on how to better your chances of snoozing soundly. Whether you have a tea before bed or count sheep while tossing and turning for hours, there are lots of tips that have become common antidotes to a restless night under the covers.
That being said, many of those popular myths have little research behind them to prove they’re actually useful. Researchers from New York University’s Langone Health’s School of Medicine combed through more than 8,000 articles to find the most common ideas around sleep, and then asked a team of sleep medicine experts to explain which ones were unhealthy assumptions.
The findings, published in the Sleep Health journal, revealed there are many claims that could be damaging our health. Here are just four the researchers picked out.
It’s okay to get less than five hours of sleep per night.
Dream on, say researchers. The study found that this belief is inaccurate. The study team write, “Several studies show that even after weeks of observation and tracking, reducing sleep leads to sustained decrements in performance. […] Habitual insufficient sleep (five hours or fewer) is associated with adverse outcomes related to cardiovascular, metabolic, mental, and immunological health.”
They concluded that, although you might “adjust” to being in a constant sleep debt, you do so at the risk of serious health consequences.
Falling asleep "anywhere, anytime" is the sign of a good sleeper.
It’s easy to feel envious of those who can pass out on planes, trains, and buses with complete ease, but the researchers say that napping on-the-go may be “indicative of a chronically sleep-deprived state.” Rather than being the sign of a good sleeper, they say that sleeping in uncomfortable places is “likely a sign of an underlying sleep problem.”
Snoring isn’t bad for your health.
Loud snoring isn’t just annoying for other people to deal with – it’s also potentially a sign of bigger health issues, like sleep apnea, which raises the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
“Snoring is caused by turbulent airflow due to partial obstruction of the upper airway during sleep,” the study authors write. “One large cross-sectional study of US adults found that 52.7 percent of them reported snoring, and that snoring was associated with adverse health outcomes in its own right. Furthermore, snoring is a primary symptom of OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) that, when untreated, places individuals at elevated risk for adverse cardiovascular events.”
Suffering from insomnia? You should stay in bed until you fall asleep.
Common advice suggests that, when you’re struggling to drift off, you should stay in bed until sleep finally comes. The researchers, however, say that counting sheep endlessly is not ideal. Although it sounds counterintuitive, they found that those who practice something called stimulus control therapy – where they leave the bed when they’re struggling to sleep – demonstrate improvements in sleep issues.
A healthy sleeper should be able to nod off in 15 minutes, so if you’re still awake at this point, the researchers conclude you should get up and do something that avoids blue light (so no scrolling through your phone). This could be anything from reading a book on the sofa to doing a repetitive task like folding laundry. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to give sleep another go.