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Common Myths About So-called Healthy Sleep Habits

healthy sleep habits

This is not an example of a healthy sleep habit.

I’m a morning person … but I really hate getting out of bed. You probably do too. But things have gotten a little easier for me since I developed some consistent healthy sleep habits. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what “healthy sleep” actually means. Trust me, I know. My sleep patterns used to really suck.

So I’d like to dispel some common myths about sleep and give you some tips for improving your sleep habits.

 

Myth 1: The more sleep you get, the better. 

Surely you have a friend or two who is convinced that you need 9 or more hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately for them, a research study conducted by the American Cancer Society found that people who sleep for over 8 hours a night have a higher risk of dying. This doesn’t mean more sleep causes you to die quicker … there’s just a correlation. The study concluded that people who slept 7 hours per night had the lowest mortality rates. So maybe it’s time to cut those 12-hour sleep marathons short.

Myth 2: Sleep is overrated … 4-5 hours is all you need. 

Then there’s the opposite crowd … those who say, “I only get 5 hours a night and that’s plenty.” Lack of sleep can cause serious problems though. The Nurses Health Study found that women who slept 5 hours or less per night had a 15 percent higher risk of becoming obese. And, these women also had a 30 percent higher risk of gaining 30 pounds over the course of the study!

Here’s what the National Sleep Foundation has to say about the ideal amount of sleep. Long story short, how much sleep you need depends on your age but for healthy adults 7-9 hours is the recommendation. 

Myth 3: A little exercise before bed will tire you out so you sleep better.

Exercise can help you develop healthier sleep habits, but when you exercise is important. Exercise raises your core body temperature and makes your body immediately more awake and alert. So if you exercise too close to the time you go to bed it can disrupt your sleep patterns. 

As a rule of thumb, don’t exercise within 3 hours of the time you plan on going to bed.

Myth 4: The older you get, the less sleep you need. 

As you age, you spend less time in the deep stages of sleep, which means you wake up more easily. Most folks just accept this and assume it’s because they don’t need as much sleep as they used to. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As you age, 7-9 hours of sleep should still be your target goal, says the National Sleep Foundation.

Myth 5: You can “catch up” on sleep during the weekends. 

While sleeping in on the weekend might make you feel like you’re refreshing your body, it doesn’t make up for lack of sleep. Sleeping more on weekends affects your circadian rhythms and makes it even harder to get quality sleep. So if you sleep in until noon on Sunday, you’re going to have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep when Sunday night rolls around. Make every effort to fall asleep and wake up at the same time on most days of the week.

Myth 6: Just watch a little TV in bed to help you fall asleep. 

TV and the bedroom don’t mix too well. In fact, according to The National Sleep Foundation’s annual Sleep in America poll, watching TV, using your cell phones, and working on your laptop can affect the quality and amount of time you sleep. So here’s some advice: keep technology out of the bedroom. Use your bed for what it’s meant for: sleeping. If you need to unwind before bed, read a book.

Myth 7: Taking naps during the day can disrupt your sleep when you go to bed at night.

Naps can actually be good for your health, according to the Harvard Health Letter. Naps can help you increase your productivity at work and at home. Even a 10- or 15-minute “power nap” can work wonders when you’re tired. But there is a proper “napping etiquette” you should try and follow to maximize the effectiveness of your naps:

  • Limit your naps to no more than half hour, and never more than 45 minutes.
  • Don’t nap late in the day (after 3 p.m.)

 

Top Tips for Developing Healthy Sleeping Habits:

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  2. Avoid caffeine in the evening.
  3. Develop healthy eating habits.
  4. Avoid alcohol.
  5. Get into a bedtime “wind down” routine (mine is reading for a half hour before I go to sleep).
  6. Exercise 4-5 days a week (but make sure it’s at least 3 hours before bed time).
  7. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and free of electronic distractions.
  8. Try incorporating yoga and/or meditation into your daily or weekly agenda.
  9. If you’re having sleep problems, talk to your doctor.

 

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