Sleep problems are not uncommon. For some, this is a sporadic occurrence, while others struggle with this problem nightly. Despite the prevalence of the problem, few people know very much about how sleep works and hold onto many myths that may inadvertently be perpetuating or even causing the problem.
If you hold some of these beliefs, I hope that accurate information, combined with some tips, can help you get a better night’s sleep.
1 MYTH: I should be able to fall asleep as soon as I get into bed.
TRUTH: Its normal to take around 30 minutes to fall asleep, so not falling asleep immediately is not necessarily a sign of a problem. However, if it consistently takes you longer than that to fall asleep, there may be a sleep problem that needs to be addressed.
2 MYTH: I need to follow specific steps in order to fall asleep.
TRUTH: Only people with sleep problems do things to fall asleep. You cannot “make” yourself sleep. Although it is nice to have a bedtime routine, this routine will not magically make you fall asleep; likewise, it will not interfere with sleep if it is skipped. Try to be less rigid when it comes to how you get to bed.
3 MYTH: To have a good day I must get eight hours of sleep. if I don’t get enough sleep, it will be a disaster.
TRUTH: People’s need for sleep varies, and the number of hours of sleep that people can produce declines with age. Few adults can produce eight hours of sleep per night, so this becomes an unachievable goal and often leaves the person feeling like a failure. Moreover, think of a time when you had very little sleep and had an amazing day anyway. For example, when you were too excited to sleep the night before a big vacation. If you can survive on little sleep then, you can also do it now. Also, if you make your awake time pleasant, you will not be suffering through that time.
4 MYTH: If I get out of bed when I can’t sleep, I will be even more miserable.
TRUTH: If you remain in bed for a long period of time while not sleeping, you teach your body that bed is a place where you do not sleep, which will interfere with future sleep. Doing something enjoyable out of bed is more pleasant then tossing and turning, and you can return to bed when you are sleepy and ready to dose off.
5 MYTH: I watch the clock so that I know how much sleep I get.
TRUTH: If you watch the clock when you cannot sleep and calculate how much sleep you will get if you fall asleep now, this is interfering with your sleep. It’s hard to sleep and do mental math at the same time. Turn the clock away so you cannot see it. You will sleep as many hours as your body is able to produce that night, and you can wait until morning to find out exactly how many that was.
6 MYTH: I do not drink coffee past the afternoon. It is not affecting my sleep.
TRUTH: Every person metabolizes caffeine differently. The half-life of caffeine is about four hours. This means that if you have a cup of coffee at 3pm, a quarter of that caffeine is likely still in your system at 11pm. If you are having any sleep problems at all, cutting out caffeine earlier—limit it to mornings only, perhaps—is the first step to try.
7 MYTH: If I wake up feeling groggy, it means I did not sleep enough.
TRUTH: There is a 30-minute delay in alertness, called sleep inertia or sleep drunkenness. You should see how you feel 30 minutes after waking; this is a much more accurate assessment of how rested you are.
8 MYTH: Thinking about sleep will help me to fall asleep.
TRUTH: The most common cause of sleeplessness is worrying about falling asleep. Try to remember that sleep is a naturally occurring bodily function, so it does not need a special approach to occur.
9 MYTH: My coffee wears off by the afternoon, so I need another cup.
TRUTH: There is a natural sleepiness that occurs midday, “the post-lunch dip,” which lasts approximately one hour. If you can make it through this period without doing anything to compensate, you are likely to feel more alert afterwards, and you have not done anything to interfere with later sleep, such as drink coffee or take a nap.
Good sleep is a key component of a happy and healthy life, so it is not surprising that sleep trouble is cause for considerable distress. Still, don’t panic, and before you take any drastic measures, try these myth-busting suggestions first.
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