Sleep is essential for our physical and mental well-being. It helps our immune system, metabolism, and other functions. When we get enough sleep, we feel refreshed and energized. When we don't, we can feel terrible and act cranky. Read more: 7 Sneaky Signs You're Not Getting Enough Sleep
While we know how we usually feel when we get—and don't get—enough sleep, why are so many of us willing to sacrifice it for a million other things? Because, in part, many of us have some wrong ideas about how much sleep we need, how to get good sleep, and what to do if we can't sleep. This information shapes our sleep habits, and, in turn, our attitude, energy, and health.
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Here are a few of the bigger myths about sleep—and the truth behind them:
Some people function perfectly on four hours of sleep.
While some people can get by on four hours of sleep, the percentage is very small—roughly 2 or 3 percent—and even those people can't do it for long periods of time. Not only can too little sleep make you less alert, it can also contribute to health issues like weight gain, depression, and even heart disease.
To feel and function your best, you need to get eight hours of sleep.
While eight hours of sleep is certainly better than four hours, not everybody is wired the same. For some, six hours is optimum. For others, ten is best. No matter your optimum amount of sleep, going to bed and getting up at the same times every day is key. Make a schedule. Start with eight hours a night for a week. Then try six or seven. Then try nine or ten. See how you feel. And consult your doctor, too. Read more: 10 Tips to Reset Your Internal Clock
It's OK… You can just catch up on sleep on the weekend.
While sleeping in on the weekend can make you feel refreshed, the feeling won't last. It also won't make up for all the sleep you lost during the week. Again, get enough sleep every night, and do it according to a consistent sleep schedule. Read more: The science behind why weekend sleep can only partially recoup poor weekday sleep.
The older you get, the less sleep you need.
Older people might have health issues that keep them from getting as much sleep as they did when they were younger, but it doesn't mean that need any less sleep. If you find yourself having more trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep as you get older, consult your physician.
Sleeping less helps you keep the weight off.
Not only does not sleeping not help you keep the weight off, it can cause you to gain weight. A lack of sleep triggers a change in a hormone that fuels your appetite, which can cause you to feel like you're starving when you're really not. And when you're snacking when you should be sleeping, you run the risk of making some unhealthy dietary decisions.
Snoring is annoying, but it's not that big of a deal.
Yes, your snoring can be annoying for those around you, but it can actually be a sign of something more serious. If you snore a lot, you might be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If you have OSA, your airways become blocked while your are sleeping, causing you to stop breathing off and on throughout the night. If untreated, OSA can increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, or even heart attack. If you think you might have OSA, consult your physician.
If you can't sleep, try watching TV, counting sheep, eating some turkey, or drinking a glass of warm milk.
Nope, nope, nope, and nope. Watching TV before bed can actually delay our sleep and contribute to depression. Counting sheep can stimulate your brain and delay your sleep, too. (Try imaging something relaxing like a beach or a waterfall instead.) And the tryptophan in turkey or a glass of milk is not enough to make you sleepy.
Now that we've shut down a few misconceptions about shuteye, it's time to share some good information for getting a good night's sleep:
- As we've already mentioned, it's important to create a regular sleep/wake schedule.
- Get regular exercise.
- Cut back on your caffeine during the day, and avoid it completely six hours before bedtime.
- If you smoke, quit. And, until you quit, don't smoke close to bedtime or if you wake up in the middle of the night.
- Don't drink alcohol and eat any heavy meals before bedtime.
- Be sure to minimize noise, light, and hot and cold temperatures in your bedroom.
- Set a goal of waking up without having to set your alarm clock.