16 Sleep Myths That Could Explain Why You're So Tired

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DON'T SLEEP ON IT!

There's been a lot of research and media musing about sleep. The negative effects of alcohol and caffeine on a good night's rest are fairly well-known, but myths abound. Correctives to these common misconceptions, along with free tools and tips, might help you catch a full night of sound sleep.

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MYTH: STAY IN BED UNTIL YOU HAVE TO GET UP

Penn Medicine research has found that you may be able to prevent acute insomnia from becoming chronic insomnia by getting out of bed if you wake before the alarm goes off. People who developed long-lasting insomnia stayed in bed in the morning trying to force more sleep.

young couple together with their young son test material of mattress for a touch
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MYTH: MATTRESSES LAST FOR DECADES

Mattresses are expensive, and some consumers like to believe that the high cost guarantees decades of use. Like all cushioned furniture, however, mattresses gradually decline in comfort and support. The lifetime of a mattress varies from person to person, but the Better Sleep Council recommends replacing a mattress every seven years.

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MYTH: PAJAMAS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH SLEEP QUALITY

Research has shown that sleeping naked may improve sleep. Forgoing PJs is better for body temperature regulation, which helps relieve stress — and that, in turn, makes it easier to sleep. For some people, the absence of garments also leads to more intimacy in bed — another soporific.

man falling asleep at work
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MYTH: SLEEP DEBT CAN BE REPAID

There's no such thing as catching up on a sleep deficit. Research indicates that a lack of sleep has negative effects on the next day's energy, motor skills, cognitive thinking, and productivity. Studies have shown the effects of sleep deprivation on business leaders and adolescents alike, so strive to get the daily recommended amount of rest.

tabby cat lying down on the bed when the young woman waking up
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MYTH: EVERYONE NEEDS 8 HOURS OF SLEEP

The exhortation to get eight hours of sleep a night may be the biggest myth of all. In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation released revised its recommended sleep durations, including a separate category for young adults (18 to 25 years old). Depending on your age, you may be sleeping too much or too little.

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MYTH: GETTING THE RECOMMENDED NUMBER OF HOURS IS ENOUGH

Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle can cause tiredness even in people who sleep the recommended number of hours. Try to time your morning wake-up so it falls between natural sleep cycles. Free services such as SleepyTi.me and the When to Sleep Calculator can help determine the best times to begin preparing for bed based on when you need to wake up.

woman having a nap at office with post-it notes of opened eyes on her eyes
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MYTH: A QUICK NAP DOESN'T AFFECT NIGHTTIME SLEEP

Naps come with great benefits, such as improved alertness, performance, memory, and even reaction time. People with no trouble sleeping at night probably won't be thrown off by a short nap during the day, but it's a different story for people with sleeping problems. For better nighttime sleep, power through drowsiness and resist napping. A quick walk outside or 10-minute stretch to activate the brain and body could stave off that tired feeling.

couple jogging in park
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MYTH: EXERCISE IS UNRELATED TO SLEEP

According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercise can make falling asleep (and staying asleep) easier. Even 10 minutes of physical activity during the day can improve sleep quality and reduce the likelihood of sleep disorders. People who have trouble sleeping and aren't particularly active can take a lunchtime stroll or go for a short pre-dinner speed walk. Challenge your partner to a joint workout so you both get better sleep.

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MYTH: STAY IN BED UNTIL YOU FALL BACK ASLEEP

Staying in bed may not help you fall asleep again if you wake in the middle of the night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Experts say if you don't fall back asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, it's best to get up and do something relaxing in another room. Don't switch on bright lights, a smartphone, or a laptop. Instead, read a book by lamplight or listen to calming music until you feel drowsy again.

worried man in bed near his sleeping wife
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MYTH: COUPLES SHOULD SLEEP IN THE SAME BED

Tossing and turning, pillow flipping, or frequent trips to the bathroom by your partner may result in a sleepless night. Instead of trying to sleep through it, look at ways to alleviate the disruptions. Consider a memory foam mattress or topper, or even two twin mattresses in a king-size frame. Also, try using your own comforter or blanket.

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MYTH: YOU'LL SLEEP BETTER IF YOU'RE ALONE

Although there can be drawbacks to sharing a bed, a small University of Minnesota study reported in February that people with good romantic relationships in their 20s had less stressful life events and better sleep quality in their 30s. The study's authors aren't going overboard with their claims. Lead researcher Chloe Huelznitz suggested only that romantics may "have other relational skills and stronger social networks that help reduce their exposure to stressful life events."

woman in bed with smartphone
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MYTH: READING BEFORE BEDTIME IS RELAXING

This depends on the medium. Books and magazines are okay. Scrolling through social media feeds and news sites on a smartphone, not so much. The blue light from personal electronic devices suppresses melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles, according to Harvard Health. Practice self-restraint and keep the phones, tablets, and laptops out of the bedroom.

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MYTH: A WARM, COZY ROOM IS BEST FOR FALLING ASLEEP

Hot temperatures and muggy conditions may induce drowsiness during the daytime, but they're not recommended for a good night's rest. Experts agree that the best temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. It's neither too cold nor too warm, and lets body temperature gradually drop — as it should — as you begin to fall asleep.

woman having morning coffee poured into cup while in bed
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MYTH: CAFFEINE DOESN'T AFFECT SLEEP IF YOU'RE IMMUNE TO IT

Caffeine consumption should be cut off at least four hours before bedtime, according to Australia's Sleep Health Foundation, because the effects can last up to six hours. Even people who don't feel the effects should still practice moderation or abstinence. Research shows that caffeine negatively affects sleep, regardless how "immune" someone has become.

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MYTH: ALCOHOL HELPS YOU SLEEP

A beer or glass of wine will make you drowsy and initially may induce sleep. But research shows that the quality of sleep deteriorates gradually during the latter half of the night. A glass of red wine may be recommended for other health benefits, but abstaining from alcohol before bedtime facilitates a better night's rest.

woman looking at fridge for something to eat, at night
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MYTH: THERE ARE FOODS THAT'LL PUT YOU TO SLEEP

A new “sleep-friendly” ice cream called Nightfood is formulated for nighttime snacking, but it isn't going to help you sleep. Although it does have vitamins and minerals that supposedly promote sleep, the main thing is that it has less lactose, sugar, and caffeine that might keep you awake, so it may be a good choice for people who are going to have dessert in the evening regardless. There are also carbonated drinks and even coffees with additives intended to promote sleep. But AARP urges people toward natural foods including almonds or walnuts, bananas, cherries, and hummus for a more healthful bedtime snack.

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