Debunking Sleep Myths


I’ve always loved to sleep. In fact, it’s my most favorite activity. I love snuggling in my king-size bed with my dogs and drifting into darkness almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. I never get into bed before I am tired, which is usually the same time every night.

Adequate sleep has always has been a priority because I can’t function well if I don’t get my six to eight hours. I’m cranky, groggy, hungry and slow-moving. I always envied those friends and work colleagues who say they only need five hours of sleep a night.

What I didn’t know is that my insistence over the years about getting a quality night’s sleep most nights has contributed to my good health. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep allows the brain and body to slow down and recover, promoting better physical and mental performance the next day and over the long term. What happens when you don’t sleep is that these processes are short circuited, affecting thinking, concentration, energy levels and mood.

Sleep science has developed significantly in the past 20 years, providing more insight about the importance of sleep. Chronic insufficient sleep and untreated sleep disorders are linked to increased health and safety risks such as cardiovascular disease, compromised immune function, diabetes, obesity, workplace accidents, and motor vehicle crashes. Data from surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau show that 34.1 percent of children, 74.6 percent of high school students, and 32.5 percent of adults in the U.S. fail to get a sufficient amount of sleep on a regular basis.

Sleep duration is important, but sleep quality is also important. Fragmented sleep marked by numerous awakenings can interfere with the ability to properly move through the sleep cycles, decreasing time spent in the most restorative stages of sleep – a time when cells and organs are rejuvenated.

Myth:  As we age, we need less sleep.

Sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for most adults. While sleep patterns may change as we age, the amount of sleep the body needs does not usually change. Older people may wake up more frequently throughout the night and end up getting less sleep during the overnight hours. Older adults are more likely to be taking medicines that interfere with sleep. However, their need for sleep is not drastically less than that of younger adults.

Myth: Taking a nap can help with lack of sleep.

While naps may increase performance and better your mood, if you struggle with frequent insomnia, naps may worsen the problem. The Mayo Clinic suggests taking 10-20 minute naps before 3 p.m. if you must. Having a routine time to nap seems to help.

Myth: If you can’t fall asleep or if you wake up during the night, stay in bed no matter what.

In the past few years, I began waking up and was not able to get back to sleep. I’d just toss and turn in bed hoping and praying I’d drift off. Sometimes I’d put the TV on or listen to music.

Research has shown it’s better to get up, keep the lights low and do something relaxing and quiet such as reading a book until you get drowsy. Do not use any electronic devices. It’s that blue light stimulation you want to avoid.

Myth: Leaving a TV on before bed can help you sleep

Unless you’re watching TV about a relaxing waterfall in the pitch black of night, your TV is likely disrupting your sleep. The blue light from your television messes with your circadian rhythm and melatonin production. At the same time, abrupt changes in sound and loud noises can disrupt sleep. That same blue light is emitted from your cell phone and looking at it before bed can disrupt your zzzs.

In the past few years I began waking up and was not able to go back to sleep. I’d just toss and turn in bed (sometimes for hours) hoping and praying my eyelids would become heavy and I’d drift off. Sometimes I’d put the TV on or listen to music.

You may at first feel sleepy, but consuming alcohol will disturb restorative sleep later in the night. Alcohol blocks REM sleep and turns on alpha brain waves which inhibit quality sleep. Avoid alcohol within three hours and caffeine within 10 hours of bedtime.

Myth: A warm bedroom is best for sleeping.

Most people sleep best in a bedroom around 65 to 68 degrees. If you sleep hot, it’s not better to sleep naked. The sweat has nowhere to go but on your sheets creating sweaty, damp sleeping surface which can disrupt your sleep. A light-weight breathable pajama shirt can help wick sweat away.

Myth: Exercise will stimulate you and you won’t get to sleep.

I realized that part of the reason I began to wake up during the night was because I had cut down on my daily exercise. A Chinese study confirmed what I surmised— those who exercised the least and slept less than six hours were 2.5 times more likely to die during the seven-year study. That risk disappeared for participants who logged at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise. Today’s workout will improve tonight’s sleep.

Many non-addictive and non-pharmaceutical methods and supplements are available to aid us in falling asleep and staying asleep. I’ve experimented with all sorts of help including guided visualization, patches, CBD, gummies, meditation and teas. I found what works for me.

The Pandemic shutdown upended routines, created more screen time, increased alcohol consumption and dissolved boundaries between work and private life all of contribute to sleep problems. Even before the shutdown, more than 50 million Americans suffered from a sleep disorder, usually insomnia, according to the American Sleep Association. The good news is solutions are abundant, but not all fixes are beneficial. Choose the one or ones that work for you. Being consistent is the answer to easily drifting into LaLa land and enjoying a healthful night’s sleep.

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Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy and get fit. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: