COMMON myths about sleep pose a serious threat to our health, according to a new study.
Scientists say the idea you can get by on less than five hours of shut-eye or having a nightcap helps you nod off are widely held misconceptions.
In fact, they claim that not only do these beliefs shape poor habits, but they may also pose a significant public health threat.
Researchers from NYU School of Medicine reviewed more than 8,000 websites to identify the 20 most common assumptions about sleep.
With a team of sleep medicine experts, they ranked them based on whether each could be dispelled as a myth or supported by scientific evidence, and on the harm that the myth could cause.
Study leader Dr Rebecca Robbins, an epidemiologist at New York University's (NYU's) School of Medicine, said: "Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood and general health and well-being.
"Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health."
1. You can get by on less than five hours sleep
Famously, Margaret Thatcher claimed she could get by on just four hours of sleep a night.
But the idea you can get by on five hours of sleep was among the top myths researchers were able to dispel based on scientific evidence.
They say this also poses the most serious risk to health from long-term sleep deficits.
Dr Robbins said: "We have extensive evidence to show sleeping five hours or less consistently, increases your risk greatly for adverse health consequences."
These included cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, and shorter life expectancy.
She instead recommends that everyone should try and get a consistent seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
2. Snoring is harmless
Another common myth relates to snoring, which many probably think is harmless.
But researchers say it can also be a sign of sleep apnoea – a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing starts and stops over the course of the night.
The team said patients shouldn't dismiss loud snoring, but rather to see a doctor since this sleep behaviour may lead to heart stoppages or other illnesses.
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3. Booze for bed boosts sleep
You may be someone that looks forward to a nightcap before bed.
But the team found sufficient evidence in published studies that, despite beliefs to the contrary, drinking booze at night is indeed unhealthy for sleep.
According to experts alcohol reduces the body's ability to achieve deep sleep which people need to function properly.
Dr Robbins said: "It may help you fall asleep, but it dramatically reduces the quality of your rest that night."
4. Watching TV helps you unwind
Many of us will switch on the television to help us nod off.
But the researchers found that it actually could cause you more stress just before bed.
Dr Robbins said: "Often if we're watching the television it's the nightly news… it's something that's going to cause you insomnia or stress right before bed when we're trying to power down and relax."
Just like a phone or tablet, a television screen produces blue light, which can delay the body's production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
5. Snoozing your alarm isn't that bad for you
Many of us are wanting that extra few minutes in bed in the morning.
Some might even deliberately set their alarm earlier so they can hit the snooze button.
But the researchers found that doing so could actually make you feel worse and instead we should just get up as soon as we wake up.
Dr Robbins said: "Realise you will be a bit groggy – all of us are – but resist the temptation to snooze.
"Your body will go back to sleep, but it will be very light, low-quality sleep."
The researchers, whose findings are published in Sleep Health, say some myths still cause disagreement – even among experts.
For instance lie-ins at the weekend disrupt the natural circadian rhythm or body clock.
But for people in certain professions – such as shift workers it may be better for them to sleep on than to get fewer hours overall.
These discrepancies, they say, suggest further research needs to be done.
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