Myth 1. You must sleep right through the night.
Reality No-one sleeps all night long. Even people who feel they sleep well wake about 30 times a night – with these periods of arousal lasting no more than three minutes each and having no effect on the restorative action of sleep. Problems only begin when we are repeatedly aware of being awake and find ourselves unable to get back to sleep.
Myth 2. You must get eight hours.
Reality According to the Australian Sleep Health Foundation, most adults need on average between seven and nine hours a night, while some people’s individual requirements fall a little outside this range.
Myth 3. The best sleep is before midnight.
Reality Rather than the clock striking 12, we should look to our internal biological clock’s idea of midnight. In other words, it’s best to get some sleep before the point in the daily cycle where the body is running at its slowest pace. This ‘biological midnight’ occurs not at 12am, but somewhere between 3am and 4am. The average sleeper will have been asleep for 4–5 hours before reaching this point. This ensures that a greater proportion of the night’s deep-sleep phases – where our recovery processes are especially effective – occur before this low point.
Myth 4. Older people need significantly less sleep.
Reality Large normative sleep studies show that older people average around seven hours’ sleep per night. From the age of 30 onwards, we wake up more often due to biological and hormonal changes as we age.
Myth 5. The bedroom should be cold.
Reality To ensure a good night’s sleep, keep your bedroom at around 18°C. However, choose appropriate covers or use a hot water bottle as being too cold can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. That doesn’t mean you should shut the windows tight, though, as stale air with lower levels of oxygen will tend to impair the restorative effect of sleep.
Myth 6. A full moon disturbs sleep.
Reality A surprising number of people believe that a full moon has an effect on their sleep. However, data gathered by sleep scientists shows that this is simply not the case.
Myth 7. Exercise in the evening helps you sleep.
Reality This myth originates in the fact that being physically tired does indeed help you sleep. Yet exercise serves to stimulate the body and increase body temperature, so exercising just before you go to bed is not a good idea. Allow your body to rest for at least two hours after exercise before going to bed. The same goes for focused mental activity.
Myth 8. TV helps you sleep.
Reality Despite the fact that many people nod off while watching TV, the truth is that the sound and flickering light reach the brain even after we have fallen asleep, preventing us from achieving healthy deep sleep. Devices such as laptops, tablets and phones are even worse. They make noises and give off light and you’re tempted to check them.
For more on a good night’s rest, see Secrets of Healthy Sleep, published by Reader’s Digest