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9 Myths About Sleep You Need to Stop Believing If You Want to Have a Great Night’s Rest

Get the facts straight to sleep better tonight.

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Myth: Alcohol will help you fall asleep

Reality: Drinking a glass of wine before bed may help you fall asleep (though some people find alcohol does the exact opposite), but that rest will likely be anything but restorative. Alcohol—a common ingredient in sleep aids—keeps your body from producing melatonin, a necessary ingredient for a good night’s sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, alcohol consumption is linked to poor sleep quality and duration, and people who regularly drink often display symptoms of insomnia. Imbibing before bedtime also interrupts your REM cycles and inhibits dreaming, both of which are likely to leave you feeling worn out rather than rested when the alarm rings.

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Myth: You can always catch up over the weekend

Reality: Sleeping in a couple days a week won’t make up for chronic sleep loss. Every time you skimp on sleep, you start accruing a “sleep debt” of the hours you’ve lost. If you have one late night and go to bed early the next, it’s probably not a huge deal. But relying on that constantly means you’ll never pay your “debt” back in full, and you’ll never get over the scary symptoms of sleep loss.

In one 2021 study, participants were asked to track their sleep for three weeks. They restricted how much rest they got for 10 of those nights, and then were told they could sleep in as much as they wanted in the days following that period. Participants displayed slowed cognitive functioning even as they tried to catch up on their “sleep debt,” and researchers concluded that even a full week to catch up on restricted sleep was not enough for participants to be back to full capacity.

So even if you spend the weekend trying to catch up on the sleep you missed during the week, it might not be enough to get you back in top form come Monday.

For daily health and wellness insight, including top tips for improved sleep hygiene, subscribe to The Healthy @Reader’s Digest newsletter

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Myth: If you toss and turn, go to bed earlier to fall asleep sooner

Reality: Hitting the sack before you’re sleepy could actually work against you. Because your body isn’t used to going to bed so early, you’ll still be tossing and turning until the time you normally fall asleep. “The more time you spend in bed each night without sleeping, the more you will associate your bed with being wide awake, instead of a restful place,” sleep expert Stephanie Silberman, PhD, writes on HuffPost. “It can actually make it harder for you to fall asleep because your mind and body will think that you are supposed to be awake in bed.” She recommends waiting until you’re tired to go to bed, then only getting up after you’ve been awake for 20 minutes. You’ll fall asleep quicker that night, plus develop good habits. As your body starts associating the bed with rest, you’ll be less likely to toss and turn. And if all else fails, memorize this tip to stop tossing and turning.

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Myth: An afternoon cup of joe can’t hurt

Reality: Depending upon your caffeine sensitivity, age and even the time of the month, caffeine any time of day can potentially keep you up at night. It takes the body seven hours to break down half the amount of caffeine you consume, and your caffeine sensitivity changes over time. If you suddenly find yourself unable to fall asleep at night, try cutting out coffee after noon, or even cutting down your morning fix from two cups to one. Still can’t sleep? Try decaf.

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Myth: A carb-heavy bedtime snack will help you sleep

Reality: Squeezing in carbs before bed could ruin your sleep quality. Carbohydrates increase tryptophan, which raises the body’s sleep-inducing serotonin levels. But scientists who study sleep caution against eating anything heavy within a few hours of bedtime. Eating late in the evening not only raises body temperature but can also lead to digestive problems, both of which interfere with a good night’s rest.

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Myth: Snoring is totally harmless

Reality: That nighttime noise could indicate a bigger problem. For most people, snoring probably isn’t a problem (except for their annoyed partners) and could be fixed with home remedies for snoring. But for others, it could be the first sign of obstructive sleep apnea. With OSA, airways get totally or partially blocked when you’re asleep, and your body will jot awake when it realizes you aren’t breathing. Not only does OSA ruin the quality of your rest, but it can also increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and obesity, according to the NIH.

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Myth: Everyone should get eight hours of sleep a night

Reality: Sleep needs vary from person to person. The National Sleep Foundation reviewed 312 studies and concluded seven to nine hours of shuteye will keep most adults healthy. So yes, eight hours is a handy average to toss around, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Plus, the researchers stressed that some people might need more or less than those recommendations to function correctly. Bottom line: If you feel great while consistently getting six hours, that’s awesome. But if you need at least nine to feel functional, there’s no shame in that either.

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Myth: A warm room will put you to sleep

Reality: In fact, the opposite is true. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature to send you to dreamland is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, a wide range that allows your body temperature to cool down and your sleep cycle to begin. Good air circulation, light to medium blankets and warm hands and feet are also crucial ingredients for healthy sleep.

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Myth: If you have insomnia, stay in bed

Reality: It depends on the situation—and the insomniac. Experts vary in opinion on this one, but most agree that if you’re relaxed and comfortable, you should stay in bed and allow your body and mind to rest. If lying awake leads to anxiety or frustration, however, getting up and doing something else is the way to go.

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Miranda Manier
Miranda is the Associate Editor for TheHealthy.com and The Healthy section of Reader's Digest magazine. Previously, Miranda was a producer at WNIT, the PBS affiliate in South Bend, Indiana; and the producer in residence for Minneapolis TV news KARE 11, where she won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award for producing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial. Miranda also interned at Chicago’s PBS station, WTTW, and worked as the managing editor at the Columbia Chronicle at Columbia College. Outside of work, Miranda enjoys acting, board games, and trying her hand at a good vegan dessert recipe. She also loves talking about TV—so tell her what you’re watching!