A Tiktok video trend began circulating a few months ago asking, “What’s a scam that’s become so normalized that we didn’t even realize it’s a scam anymore?” This got us thinking, what sleep myths have also been normalized and may not even be true? Do we actually need 8 hours? Does it matter if you watch TV at night?
We gathered some popular sleep myths and asked two experts to give their opinions on which ones work, which ones don’t, and which ones do both.
Dr. Kristen Casey is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). She also runs a mostly sleep-focused Instagram and TikTok, and even sometimes debunks trending sleep hacks.
Dr. Jade Wu is a Board-certified behavioral sleep medicine psychologist and researcher at Duke University School of Medicine. She specializes in sleep and mental health during pregnancy and postpartum.
Sleepopolis talked with Dr. Casey and Dr. Wu and ran by them some long-held sleep myths, trendy sleep hacks and sleep facts and fictions. *
True or False? You need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep every night.
Answer: Both Yes and No
While this is generally thought of as the recommended amount of sleep an adult needs, this is actually true for some people but false for others.
Dr. Wu compares this idea to the amount of water people need to drink. Depending on a person’s biology and environment, some people need more than others. The same goes for sleep. Many adults need more than 8 hours per night, while others need less.
Dr. Casey adds it’s more about the quality of sleep you are getting versus the quantity. She stated, “If you get 8 hours of sleep, but you wake up feeling tired you probably didn’t get quality sleep.”
True or False: Melatonin will fix my sleeping problems.
While this can be true for some people who lack melatonin, it’s not the case for others. Dr. Wu explains, “melatonin is a hormone our brains release when it gets dark, and it signals to the brain/body to get ready for sleep as its levels increase in the evening. Taking over the counter melatonin at the right time in the evening can shift a person’s circadian phase (the timing of when they tend to get sleepy), but it doesn’t do anything to help if a person has trouble falling asleep for non-circadian reasons.”
Dr. Casey says that melatonin may not help with sleep as much as we think. Instead it’s important to focus on your sleep wake cycle. Two things to help regulate this is to go to sleep at the same time each night and to expose yourself to light immediately upon waking. Dr. Casey explains this helps with melatonin secretion in two ways. First telling the body when to stop melatonin secretion because you see light and knowing when to secrete melatonin at night because it’s starting to get dark.
Fact: A good sleeper doesn’t move at night.
We all move sometimes when we sleep, and that’s okay.
Dr. Wu explains that it’s only a problem if moving disrupts our sleep quality (e.g., periodic limb movement disorder). Dr. Casey explains that for the average person the only time we don’t normally move during our sleep cycle is when we’re in atonia (when we have reduced muscle tone in many of our body’s muscles, prohibiting us from acting out our dreams) which is usually during REM sleep.
Fact: Our current sleep pattern is how we’re supposed to sleep, meaning sleeping at night and waking up in the morning.
Answer: True (for the most part)
Dr. Wu explains humans are meant to sleep most or all of our sleep at night, but it’s also perfectly natural to take a short midday nap everyday. Historically, people have also done biphasic sleep. This is where you get up in the middle of the night for an hour or two and split their night into two chunks of sleep.
Dr. Casey explains that this sleep pattern tends to work for people who work 9-5, but it’s not the only way to sleep. Everyone has a different circadian rhythm and unique ability to get sleep.
Fact: Watching television can help you fall asleep better.
Answer: Both True and False
Some people have made an association between TV and falling asleep. Dr. Wu explains this doesn’t mean it’s good for sleep quality, especially if the TV stays on during the night. Dr. Casey explains we should limit electronics and anything anxiety producing before sleep. However, if you do use a TV to fall asleep make sure you put it on a timer because your brain still responds to stimuli even when you’re asleep. Also, try not to watch anything too intense like a crime documentary.
Dr. Casey states, “if you are able to put away all electronics, you’re allowing your body to fall asleep naturally and you’re giving your brain space to begin the memory consolidation process.” This is a process that happens during sleep with our brain understanding what information we need, what is put in long term memory, and what we throw out.
Fact: Snoring isn’t harmful.
Dr. Casey says, “snoring is something we love to be curious about.” While on the surface, snoring isn’t technically harmful, it does give information into someone’s sleeping pattern and could give clues into the quality of sleep they are getting.
Dr. Wu explains, “snoring can indicate sleep disordered breathing (SDB), which includes disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of OSA, snoring can be bad for sleep quality.” *
Fact: Constantly snoozing your alarm is nothing to worry about.
While snoozing your alarm every once in a while won’t hurt you, repeated snoozing means you’re getting poor quality sleep and can lead to other cognitive challenges. Dr. Wu explains that to stop snoozing so much, set your alarm for the latest time possible and let yourself sleep.
Dr. Casey adds that continued snoozing makes your body confused. By snoozing you’re fighting against your own body clock or artificial clock because your body doesn’t know if you are going back into a full sleep cycle or if something different is happening. Snoozing also has the potential to create an unhelpful association with your bed, because you associate it with relaxation and not restoration, which is what sleep is.
Fact: You can catch up on sleep.
While this might be true for a short-term, it won’t be for long.
Dr. Wu explains that occasional schedule disruptions like travel or socializing can throw off a couple of nights of sleep. To recover you can nap or sleep extra in the following nights to ‘catch up,’ but this cannot be a continuous weekly pattern.
Dr. Casey explains this as sleep debt. If you are always needing your weekends to ‘catch up’ your body is unable to rejuvenate the resources it needs during your nightly sleep. This can lead to lasting effects on your body that can’t be undone quickly with some sleep. Dr. Wu said, “sleep is not a magic wand that reverses damage already done.”
*Their answers are all based on a normal healthy functioning person. The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. Please talk to your doctor or a medical professional if snoring is causing interrupted sleep or you are concerned about sleep apnea. If you have any questions or concerns please reach out to your doctor.