A new study conducted by NYU researchers sought to bust commonly held myths about sleep that are subjecting us to serious health risks. The report was published online in the journal Sleep Health and covers myths that you yourself may have thought were true.
For the study, the researchers combed through thousands of websites that contained articles or information about sleep, searching for 20 prominent ideas and beliefs that are contradicted by science. By designing the study this way, the researchers are acknowledging that the public receives much of its sleep health education from the greater Web, rather than from reliable scientific sources or through formal education. I mean, do you remember ever learning about sleep health in school?
The biggest sleep myth of all? That five hours of sleep is good enough. Most Americans biologically need between seven and nine hours of sleep, but about a third of us are getting less than. “Getting by” on less sleep than that is nothing to celebrate. In fact, sleeping for less than seven hours, in the long term, is setting us up for an increased risk of chronic illness and premature death. The NYU study cited research that suggested five hours (or less) sleep, for instance, doubles your chance of death from all causes — meaning stroke, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, you name it.
Sleep deprivation is also correlated to a weakened immune system, low sex drive, and mental health conditions like depression, paranoia, and moodiness. All told, the researchers cited data that suggests that sleep deprivation compromises the health of nearly half the world’s population.
Another notable myth addresses sleep hygiene and insomnia. Healthy sleepers usually fall asleep within 15 minutes of trying to sleep. If you’re struggling to fall asleep well beyond that period — even if you’re tired — get out of bed. Lying in bed with your eyes closed does not benefit your body in any way that resembles sleep. On the contrary, it wreaks havoc on your sleep hygiene. “If we stay in bed, we’ll start to associate the bed with insomnia,” Rebecca Robbins, one of the study’s lead researchers, told CNN. Instead, do something else that is chill, mindless, and doesn’t require bright lights (or, for that matter, blue lights from our phone screens) so that you’re not tricking your brain into being alert. FYI, a key element of good sleep hygiene is our ability to associate our bed with just two things: sleep and sex. That means no watching TV, reading, or social media scrolling from bed.
My least favorite myth that was busted in this study was the one surrounding the snooze button. Deep in my heart I know that hitting snooze leaves me feeling even groggier than if I’d simply gotten out of bed in the first place. The NYU researchers confirmed this, highlighting the way that snoozing launches people back into a new REM cycle. This is why waking up at the second or third alarm leaves us feeling even worse off. Next time your alarm goes off, just get up! It’s counterintuitive, but you’ll feel way more rested that way.
Ultimately the researchers would like the findings of this study to guide public health officials on how best to address what is a vast public health concern; sleep, perhaps, is just as important as exercise or nutrition. “For example, by discussing sleep habits with their patients, doctors can help prevent sleep myths from increasing risks for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes,” a lead researcher of the study said in a press release.