Got insomnia again? Leading sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley exposes some of the myths that are keeping you awake
MYTH 1: Eight hours a night is essential
There are no hard and fast rules about the amount of sleep each of us needs. We all have our own individual need. The normal range is anywhere between five and nine hours and, like height or shoe size, is genetically determined. Therefore you need to get the right amount of sleep for you. Do not obsess about getting eight hours, find the amount of time that is right for you. This is the amount of sleep that allows you to feel awake and vital the next day. If you are sleepy during the day you are probably not getting enough sleep at night.
MYTH 2: There is no such thing as too much sleep
You can get too much sleep, each of us has our own individual sleep ‘need’ and like anything it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Scientific evidence has shown that too much sleep is just as harmful as too little.
MYTH 3: You can train your body to need less sleep
Some people naturally need less sleep than others and this is genetically determined so whilst you can ‘get by’ on less sleep then you need you cannot train yourself to ‘need’ less sleep. However, regularly getting even one hour less sleep than you need is likely to impact on your health and negatively affect performance and mood. Longer term partial sleep deprivation is associated with a greater risk of a number of diseases including heart disease, depression, diabetes and obesity.
MYTH 4: Sleeping in separate beds/bedrooms means the relationship is in trouble
Many people sleep better with the warmth and security of another person next to them, however 50 per cent of your sleep disturbance is caused by your bed partner so others prefer to sleep alone. This is a perfectly natural thing to do and might even improve your relationship because by sleeping better you will be happier, less tired and less resentful of the other person.
MYTH 5: If you miss out on sleep during the week you can catch up at the weekend
Catching up on missed sleep is important but a lie-in on the weekend can actually add to sleep disruption and increase tiredness. Our bodies respond better to regular sleep patterns going to bed and getting up at a regular time. The weekend lie-in is disruptive to this pattern and this is why getting up on Monday morning can be so difficult. To catch-up on sleep it is better to go to bed a bit earlier and keep to your regular wake-up time.
MYTH 6: An hour before midnight is worth two after
There is some wisdom behind this old-wives tale because the deep restorative part of sleep that we have is usually during the first third of the night, that is, in the hours before and around midnight, sleep in the later part of the night is more easily disturbed. So this saying is actually about the quality of sleep in the first part of the night not necessarily the timing.
MYTH 7: Children will go to sleep when they are tired
This is like thinking that children will stop eating ice cream when they are full. Children need much more sleep than adults, it is crucial to their development; however, like us, it is important for children to have a routine in order for them to get their required sleep.
MYTH 8: Snoring is just a bit annoying and nothing to worry about
Many people, both men and women, snore during the night. Most occasional snoring is linked alcohol or being a bit overweight. However regularly snoring will disturb the sleep of both the snorer and their bed partner and there is no good thing about poor sleep. Loud, frequent snoring with regular pauses in breathing is called sleep apnoea, a serious sleep disorder that should be treated.
Dr Neil Stanley is an author and sleep expert. See his twitter page @drneilstanley for daily sleeping tips.