Reviewed by QualityHealth’s Medical Advisory Board Drinking alcohol makes you drowsy. Counting sheep makes you doze off. You can catch up on lost sleep over the weekend. When it comes to getting your Z’s, it can be difficult separating fact from fiction. But according to experts, knowing the facts can help improve your sleep, reduce your disease risk, and boost your health. Read on to uncover the most common sleep myths so you can get a more restful slumber. Myth 1: If you can’t fall asleep, you need to try harder. Fact: Contrary to popular belief, you can’t force yourself to sleep by spending more time in bed. If you can’t fall asleep, you should get out of bed, move to another room, and wait until you’re truly tired to return. And don’t even think about counting sheep: An Oxford University study found that insomniacs who counted sheep were less likely to doze off than those who didn’t. It may be more helpful to establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities done in low lighting can help ease the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness. Myth 2: Alcohol promotes good sleep. Fact: Although a few drinks may make you feel drowsy, alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns, causing you to wake up after only three or four hours. It can also make chronic insomnia worse and increase symptoms of sleep deprivation. What’s more, alcohol dependence has been linked to insomnia that can persist for months into abstinence and recovery, according to the National Institutes of Health. For a better bedtime beverage, try green tea.
Myth 3: You can catch up on lost sleep over the weekend. Fact: While you may be able to get back on schedule, the sleep you lose on any given night is lost forever—it can’t be made up. In addition, sleeping for longer than recommended on the next night may be more harmful than helpful. According to experts, the best policy is to avoid skimping on sleep in the first place. Myth 4: You need less sleep as you get older. Fact: Because sleep rhythms tend to change with age, it’s often assumed that older people require less sleep. But studies suggest otherwise. According to the National Sleep Foundation, older people may wake up more frequently through the night and get less quality sleep, but they require seven to eight hours’ sleep, the same amount as younger people. Myth 5: Insomnia is simply the inability to fall asleep. Fact: In reality, insomnia refers to several sleep-related problems, including waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, getting up frequently during the night, or waking up without feeling refreshed. Be sure to chart your patterns in a sleep journal, and talk to your doctor about your symptoms so he or she can she can suggest suitable treatment options. Myth 6: A lack of sleep may be inconvenient, but it’s not a serious health problem. Fact: This is perhaps the most dangerous sleep myth of all. The fact is, insufficient sleep has been linked to dozens of serious health conditions, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, depression, and even cancer. What’s more, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sleep deprivation accounts for two out of three U.S. road accidents. Again, be sure to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and treatment options.