Study: Your long-held sleep beliefs may be sleep myths

Is sleeping in a hot room better than sleeping in a cool room? If you read Ladders, you already know that the optimal temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. What’s the verdict on naps? Sleeping in on the weekend?

Researchers from NYU School of Medicine reviewed over 8,000 websites to find the 20 most common assumptions about sleep. Gathering a team of sleep medicine experts, they ranked these assumptions – from whether sleeping five hours a night is fine for adults to whether naps are an adequate way to catch up on lost sleep – on whether they were myths or facts supported by evidence.

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“Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health,” says study lead investigator, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, in a release.

Here are some myths the study found, along with an explanation.

Myth #1: Many adults need only 5 or fewer hours of sleep for general health

Many business leaders claim to get by on sleeping five hours a night, but sleep experts say that sleeping this little is a health risk due to long-term sleep deficits. “Habitual insufficient sleep” is related to adverse outcomes related to cardiovascular, metabolic, mental, and immunological health. Robbins and her colleagues suggest that for healthy sleep, you get at least seven hours of sleep nightly, along with a consistent sleep routine, with the addition of naps when your sleep schedule falls short.

Myth #2: One night of sleep deprivation will have lasting negative health consequences

While there are some negative effects, like worse performance in attention and stress on the cardiovascular system, you’ll recover if you catch up on your sleep.

Myth #3: Taking naps in the afternoon is a good way to catch up on sleep if you have trouble sleeping at night

Yes and no. While siestas are a cultural norm in some places, and naps are a good way to catch up on lost sleep from the night before, there are reasons not to nap. If you have insomnia, it could make it worse, for example. And “habitual napping” could be associated with adverse health outcomes. In other words, you don’t want to become a daily napper.

Myth #4: Watching TV is a good way to relax before sleeping

TV-watching is most common amongst those who sleep for a short period of time. It also contributes to various difficulties with sleeping. Given that, researchers don’t recommend TV as part of your nighttime pre-sleep relaxation routine.

Myth: #5: Your brain and body can learn to function just as well on less sleep

With restricted sleep, you’ll be tired for the first few days, and eventually, that tiredness will start to plateau. Less sleep has been shown to cause a decline in performance. Night shift workers, who sleep less than the rest of us, have higher morbidity due to breast cancer and all-cause mortality. While people might “adjust” to a consistent lack of sleep or the “circadian misalignment” that night shift workers deal with, they face serious consequences to their health.

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