Sleep Experts Debunk 15 Sleep Myths

Sleep Experts Debunk 15 Sleep Myths


Rebecca Robbins: All right.
“Many adults need five
hours of sleep or less.”
Now, this is a myth.
“Loud snoring is annoying
but mostly harmless.”
David Rapoport: Loud
snoring is actually a sign
that there is a
blockage in your throat.
Robbins: “Your brain
and body
will adapt to less sleep.”
This is a myth.
I’m Dr. Rebecca Robbins.
I’m a postdoctoral
research fellow
at the Brigham and
Women’s Hospital
and Harvard
Medical School.
Rapoport: And I’m
Dr. David Rapoport.
I’m a professor of medicine
at the Icahn School of
Medicine at Mount Sinai,
and I run the research
program in sleep.
Robbins: And we’re here
today to debunk
some of the most common
myths about our sleep.
“Watching TV in bed is a
good way to relax
before sleep.”
Now, this is not something
that we would
necessarily recommend.
If you turn the television
on and if it’s close to you,
that’s a source of
bright-blue light.
So, bright light is one
of the strongest cues
to our circadian rhythm.
It kick-starts our
body and our brain
to become awake and
alert in the morning.
It’s called a zeitgeber,
the strongest input
to that circadian,
the awake phase
of our rhythm.
Rapoport: “Drinking
booze before bed
will improve your sleep.”
So, this is a very
commonly used tactic
for people who have
trouble sleeping,
and they have a drink.
It’s a drug.
It’s very much like
a sleeping pill.
And it is true that it
will help you get to sleep,
as long as you don’t
drink too much.
One or two drinks, perhaps.
What you do, however, is it
disrupts the normal sleep.
It suppresses REM sleep,
which is a normal
part of your sleep
that comes on a little
while after you go to sleep,
typically 30 to 60
minutes later.
And then, when it comes
that the alcohol has
gotten out of your system,
then the REM comes back
perhaps at the wrong time,
perhaps too strong,
and it disrupts things.
And so basically it is
not generally recommended
that alcohol be used
as a sleeping pill.
“Lying in bed with
your eyes closed
is almost as
good as sleeping.”
I think that one’s pretty
definitely not correct.
Sleep is a very
specific process
that your body
goes through.
The most common
myth, if you will,
that we got rid of in the
scientific field 50 years ago
is that sleep was like,
you know, taking your car
and putting it in the garage
and turning off the key
and leaving it there,
and then you come
back the next morning
and it just is parked.
Sleep is not like that at all.
Sleep is a very
active process.
When you go to sleep,
you enter one stage.
A little while later,
you enter another stage.
It gets
progressively deeper.
You then have
the REM sleep,
and then you wake
up momentarily,
and that whole cycle
takes an hour
to an hour and a half,
and then it starts again,
and it happens three to
five times in a night.
And if you disrupt
any of that,
something happens, and the
next morning you feel it.
You don’t feel rested.
Now, we don’t understand
how that actually happens
or why that happens, but
we do know it does happen.
So when you’re lying in bed,
none of that is happening.
If your eyes are closed
and you’re not asleep,
it just doesn’t count.
Robbins: Next.
Rapoport: “If you can’t
sleep, you should stay in bed
and try to fall back asleep.”
If you don’t fall asleep,
we generally recommend
that you not stretch it out
and stress yourself out
by just trying.
And there’s
probably nothing
that can prevent sleep
as well as,
“I’ve gotta go to sleep.”
[Robbins laughs]
“I’ve gotta go to sleep.”
“I’ve gotta go to sleep.”
Robbins: “I need to!”
Rapoport: You can feel
your pulse
and your blood
pressure going up.
So what we try
and do when
we work with
somebody
who has this problem
with insomnia
is exactly the
opposite of that.
We try and tell them,
relax, don’t worry about it.
Stay in bed for a little
while and see what happens.
But don’t try to go
to sleep, just relax.
And if you can’t relax and
if you don’t go to sleep,
it’s probably better
to get up
so that you don’t
associate the bed
with a stressful situation.
Robbins: All right.
“Many adults need
five hours of sleep or less.”
Now, this is a myth.
We have scores of
epidemiological data
and data from the
sleep lab to show
that five hours
is not enough
for the vast
majority of adults.
There may be
some individuals
that maybe do
OK on six hours,
but much less than that
really is a myth.
Now, you might hear
people brag about this,
saying, “Oh I get five,
I’m just fine.”
But by and large, we do
see those people
likely making up for lost
sleep on the weekends
or in power naps,
for instance.
So, for the vast
majority of us,
the recommendation really
is seven to eight hours.
Rapoport: This is a
real problem
that the sleep field has
been trying to address,
and that is that not
sleeping has been perceived
as a macho thing.
It proves how great you are,
it proves how manly
you are in some cases.
Sleeping is actually good,
and you should sort of
be proud of the fact
that you sleep to your need.
Robbins: “Your brain and body
will adapt to less sleep.”
Rapoport: That sounds
like yours.
Robbins: No.
This is a myth.
We see that, just
like good nutrition
or a great, healthy diet
is so important,
we similarly have a
diet that we need
our brains and our bodies
to be at their best.
Rapoport: There are actual,
formal studies
that have tested
how people perform
with lack of sleep
and how they think
they are performing.
And it turns out that we
basically are really lousy
at saying how
sleepy we are.
So you know you feel bad
when you haven’t
had enough sleep,
but you have no idea
how bad you are,
and your performance
keeps deteriorating
the more you don’t sleep
or restrict your sleep
over multiple days,
and you think, “Oh,
I’ve settled in.
I have a little headache, and
it doesn’t really bother me.
I’m doing just great.”
And what is actually
happening is
you’re performing less
and less well
on the various things
that we can test,
including driving simulators.
You’re falling asleep
for three or four seconds
continuously, without
knowing it.
Robbins: All right. “It
doesn’t matter
what time of day you sleep.”
Rapoport: If you look
at our biology,
we have, inside
our brain, a clock.
That clock is set to say,
“This is a good
time to sleep.”
And then at another
time it says,
“This is a good
time to be out.”
Sleep is timed.
It doesn’t just happen.
And even if you don’t
sleep for the whole night,
you’ll be more and more
sleepy all night long.
But in the morning,
you’ll get a second wind,
and that’s because the clock
says, “Up, time to be up.”
It doesn’t matter that you
didn’t sleep,
it’s time to be up.
As Rebecca said, we’ve
gained an incredible ability
to not abide by that rhythm.
And the problem is
that people think
that they can get
away with things
that our biology
just won’t let us do.
Nurses have been
most studied for this,
and firefighters and
emergency workers
and people who
live on ships.
They all pay a price,
epidemiologically.
We’ve shown higher
heart disease,
more tendency to
gain weight,
and a variety of
malfunctions and difficulties
as time goes on.
You can do it, but
it’s gonna cost you.
Robbins: “Exercising within
four hours of bedtime
will disturb your sleep.”
Rapoport: What we give
as advice is that
about an hour before sleep,
you wanna try and avoid
active kind of things,
and exercise certainly
is one of them.
On the other hand, there
are people who exercise
close to sleep and
do very well.
So I don’t think we
should say, you know,
if you’re somebody who
exercises regularly
in the evening
and you sleep beautifully
and you feel rested
the next morning,
that you should
give up exercise,
’cause I think that would
be a bad bit of advice.
You’ll gain weight,
you’ll lose the toning
that you’ve gotten,
so on and so forth.
On the other hand, if you
haven’t been doing it,
I probably wouldn’t start
exercising at night.
And if you’re having
trouble with sleep,
that’s one of the
first things we look at,
after drugs like caffeine,
to try and get rid of.
Robbins: All right.
“Remembering your dreams
is a sign of a
good night’s sleep.”
Rapoport: I think that
there is a huge variation
in how much people
remember their dreams.
Some of it has to do
with when you wake up.
If you wake up
during REM sleep,
you almost always
will remember a dream.
Some of us don’t
remember anything
at all about our dreams,
and it doesn’t
seem to harm them.
But it’s not a true thing
that just because you don’t
remember your dreams,
that you’re not
having good sleep.
What tells you you’re
having good sleep
is how you feel
the next day.
Robbins: Now, if you’re
waking up with nightmares,
that could be a simple sign
that maybe your
bedroom is too hot
and you need to turn
down the temperature.
‘Cause a hot bedroom
environment unfortunately
can create fragmented sleep
and cause you to wake up
often from nightmares.
Now, “Eating cheese (or
other food) before bed
causes nightmares.”
Rapoport: I don’t think I’m
aware of any particular food
that will do that
to everybody,
but it’s very clear
that being uncomfortable
will precipitate both
bad sleep and waking up
and maybe even nightmares.
So, imagine somebody with
irritable bowel syndrome
who knows that whenever
they eat, whatever,
gluten or some
specific food, spicy foods,
it upsets their stomach
when they’re awake.
Well, guess what?
If they eat it before
they go to sleep,
it’ll upset their sleep,
and it may show up
as a nightmare.
Robbins: “Loud snoring
is annoying
but mostly harmless.”
Rapoport: Loud snoring
is actually a sign
that there is a blockage
in your throat.
The mildest form
of blockage
just causes vibration, noise.
If you’ve ever played
with a piece of grass
and you blow through it,
you know that if you
blow through a tube
or a structure that
can vibrate,
it starts to vibrate
and make noise.
Many instruments are based
on exactly that principle.
You’re creating a vibration
by blowing through a
partially blocked tube.
So snoring is just that.
And if that’s all it was,
it wouldn’t be all
that bad for you.
But, unfortunately, it
usually isn’t just by itself.
And especially when, as
they say on the question,
loud snoring.
That kind of snoring, and
especially if it’s associated
with gasps and
snorts and pauses,
is actually a sign of
a very common disorder
called sleep apnea.
And sleep apnea is
when that blockage
gets a little bit worse
than just causing vibration
and actually blocks
the flow of air in.
And when that happens,
you’re actually choking.
And when that
gets complete,
we call it an apnea,
“without breathing,”
from the Greek.
And your body defends
itself against this blockage
by waking up,
’cause everything
gets normal when
you wake up.
The trouble is that then
you go back to sleep
and it happens again,
and it can happen
every 30 to 60 seconds.
Robbins: “Hitting
snooze bar
is better than
getting up.”
We often hear that people
have two, three,
four, five alarms
set up before they
get up in the morning.
Now, the best thing
for all of us to do
would actually be to
practice sleep hygiene
and have a
consistent bedtime
and actually wake up
with an alarm.
But of course that’s a
lot harder in actuality.
The best thing for us,
by and large,
is to set your alarm clock
for the latest time that
you can in the morning
to allow for as much
sleep as possible
but that will allow you to
go about your daily routine
and get to work on time.
Because if we’re hitting
several snooze bars
and waiting, I believe
it’s nine minutes,
and then another
nine minutes,
all of that incremental
sleep is very rarely that.
It’s much more fragmented.
It’s very light
sleep, if anything.
And the majority of REM
sleep is in the morning
right before we wake up.
So try to protect
that as best you can
and set your alarm clock for
the latest possible time.
“You can simply become
a morning person.”
Rapoport: So, the
difference between
a morning and
an evening person
appears to be influenced
by lots of things
that are probably genetic.
And it’s not something you
can just change by training.
What you can do is
trick your biology
into thinking that you
live in Chicago
but you work in New York.
And that’s what
blue light does.
Robbins: With some
blue-light therapy, actually,
using bright-blue light
in the morning
can help shift those
true evening people
a little bit earlier.
Rapoport: It
basically tells you
that you’re actually in
a different time zone
from where you are, and that
shifts you a little bit.
So that’s the approach
we use when the
problem is severe
and there’s a need for that.
It’s actually shifting
when morning is
rather than shifting whether
you work in the morning.
Robbins: So, “You can
catch up on sleep
by sleeping in
on the weekends.”
Now, for the vast
majority of us,
this is a very
common practice,
this kind of sleeping in,
and unfortunately,
in our society,
we term it as this luxury,
you know, “Oh, to sleep in.”
And that’s because
most of us aren’t
getting enough sleep
during the work week
or adding bricks into our
backpack of sleep debt.
Now, what sleeping in does
is it sends a cue to
our circadian rhythm
that we’re trying to
change time zones.
So if we extend our rising
time by more than an hour,
two, three, worse, four
hours into the morning,
you might feel better
than if you got up early,
but that sleep the next night
is gonna be compromised.
Why? We call this
social jet lag.
Our body is trying to adapt.
If you’re a New
Yorker, physiologically,
your body thinks
you’re in London
and you’re trying to
adjust to that time,
so you’re gonna be
fighting your physiology
come bedtime that
next night.
So the best practice is
to keep a consistent
bedtime schedule
and try to get as much
sleep as you can.
Now, if you do have an
excessive sleep debt
and you really need to pay
that back on the weekends,
the best way
without interrupting
your circadian rhythm
would be to do that with
a nap in the afternoon
because that’s not
gonna change
your body’s physiological
circadian rhythm.
“Boredom makes you tired
even if you got
enough sleep.”
Now, yes, it is very true that
a boring meeting or lecture,
especially in the
afternoon, may be soporific.
But if you’re in that
environment
and sleep-deprived,
it is a bellwether sign
that you’re not
getting enough sleep.
So, when people say, “The
airplane makes me tired.
I get in the plane,
I fall right asleep.”
Boredom alone, of course, is
not a sleep-inducing state.
Rapoport: Boredom
is a way of
unmasking your
sleep tendency.
We, in fact, use
that in testing.
We put people in
boring situations
and see how long it takes
them to fall asleep.
If they are fully
satisfying their sleep need,
they don’t fall asleep
for at least 20 minutes.
Robbins: Sleep is so
critical to our health
and our wellness
and our well-being,
and every night
does count.
In light of all the things
that we’ve talked about,
remember that if it’s
not broken, don’t fix it.
So do try to implement
some of the strategies
or put some of the
strategies to work
that we’ve talked
about today
if you find that you
have a problem,
because at the end of
the day, small changes
do make a really
big difference,
especially when it
comes to our sleep.

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