Sleep shouldn’t really be that hard. Get in bed, fall asleep, wake up after eight hours feeling on top of the world.
But according to recent research by Silentnight and the University of Leeds, a quarter of us Brits are only getting five hours sleep a night or less, and the average person loses an astounding 15 days’ worth of sleep every year.
Which means that for thousands that simple sleep theory above is but a distant, er, dream (soz!).
So what’s keeping us awake?
While we know that our actions can have an impact on the quality or quantity of our sleep – that sneaky before bed coffee, too much alcohol, scrolling Instagram after lights out – experts believe that our sleep beliefs could be playing just a big a role in us getting a poor night’s kip.
“There is a bigger catalyst than excess caffeine or late nights when it comes to poor sleep,” explains Silentnight’s sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. “In fact there is growing evidence which suggests our beliefs rather than our actions could be the thing keeping us awake at night.”
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 7 of the unhelpful sleep myths that are totally sabotaging our ZZZs.
Believing a good night’s sleep = sleeping through
Stressed about middle of the night wake-ups? Think you ought to put your head on the pillow and not wake up until morning? We hear ya! But according to Dr Nerina, we don’t need to worry.
“Even if you think you slept through, chances are you woke up several times during the night without realising it,” explains Dr Nerina. “Sleep studies show that the average human wakes around ten times during the night. The theory is that this sleep-wake cycle evolved for our survival and safety; we come into a semi-conscious state to check that all is well and then slide back into sleep. It is completely normal to wake up during the night and then go back to sleep. Don’t fixate on it being a problem.”
Checking the time
We’ve all been there! Can’t sleep, so you check your clock to see how late it is, then you can’t sleep because you’re worrying about how late it is. Gah! “This is the single biggest disruptor of sleep, yet for so many of us it’s a habit that’s hard to break,” says Dr Nerina. “If you wake up in the night and instantly check the time, you’re likely to start calculating how many hours you have left before morning and worrying about much sleep you’re missing out on. This is a terrible cycle to get into, as obsessively checking the time will only make you more stressed and less able to drift back off. By all means, use your phone as an alarm clock, but fight the urge to check it every time you wake up during the night.”
Believing only eight hours will do
We all know the sleep drill, any less than seven or eight hours shuteye and the whole of the next day is a productivity write-off. Not so, says Dr Nerina. “While it’s important to get enough sleep, there is far too much significance placed on the holy grail of eight hours,” she says. “Everyone’s sleep requirements are different and it’s unhelpful to focus on getting a set amount. The key is to pay attention to how you feel when you wake up. If you wake up feeling refreshed after five hours, you’re probably getting enough sleep for you.”
Thinking you can ‘catch up’ on sleep
Let’s be honest: when we’ve been burning the midnight oil, we’re all guilty of thinking we can just sleep in later to stockpile those missed ZZZs. And why wouldn’t we sleep later on the weekend or on holiday – you can hardly do it when you’ve got a 9am meeting with your boss, can you? But according to Dr Nerina, this belief that you can catch up on zeds could be seriously damaging our sleep pattern. “While you can catch up to some extent, you can’t fully recover,” she warns. “Instead get into a good, regular routine if you want to really reap the healing benefits of sleep, and beat your sleep problems for good.”
Believing that sleep only happens when your eyes are shut
How many times have you sat in a meeting with your eyes open, but glazed over, and been completely oblivious to what’s being said? Or read a book before bed and then re-read exactly the same pages the next night? According to Dr Nerina, this is actually an early sleep state known as a hypnagogic trance. “This is a vital relaxation state that allows you to consolidate information, learn, and refresh your memory, enabling you to stay sharp and focussed,” she explains. “You might not realise but by slipping into this trance-like state during the day, you could be affecting your ability to fall asleep at night.”
Believing your insomnia is inherited
If you believe that you are somehow carrying a ‘bad’ sleep gene that’s stopping you from sleeping, you’re certainly not alone. But no such gene exists. Dr Nerina believes the first step to sorting your sleep problems is to stop thinking they are unsolvable. “Everyone can improve the way they sleep. When you start becoming more aware of your sleep, you’ll start to see how any sleep issues are probably due to bad habits that have been passed down through generations, rather than faulty genetics.”
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