Common sleep myths keeping you awake - and damaging your health

Nightcaps, bedroom television and hitting snooze may be affecting your sleep quality. [Photo: Getty]
Nightcaps, bedroom television and hitting snooze may be affecting your sleep quality. [Photo: Getty]

Popular myths about sleep may be ruining your ability to get enough shut-eye, a new study reveals.

Scientists from New York University have identified the most common myths ruining your time under the duvet – in the hope of righting some wrongs.

"Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and general health and well-being," says study lead investigator, Dr Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow.

"Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health."

If you subscribe to any of the following beliefs, it may be time to change up your habits:

You can cope on less than five hours sleep

Margaret Thatcher famously did it, but following in the footsteps of the former Prime Minister is a no-no for the general public.

READ MORE: Surprising things that are stopping you from sleeping

"We have extensive evidence to show sleeping five hours or less consistently, increases your risk greatly for adverse health consequences," said Robbins.

Nor can taking naps throughout the day sufficiently counteract a bad night’s sleep – Robbins recommends aiming for a consistent 7-8 hours.

TV in bed helps you relax

Over half of us (51%) watch TV in bed, but the habit can wreak havoc with our sleep cycles.

While it might be thought it helps us unwind, Robbins says the programmes we watch in bed can often be the cause of “insomnia or stress”.

"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,” she says.

That’s before you factor in the blue light effect of television, which hinders the body’s production of sleep hormone melatonin.

Stay in bed to get to sleep

More time in bed equals more sleep, right? Wrong. While it might be tempting to wait it out until you make yourself nod off, apparently your time on the pillow might be misspent – and you’d be better off folding socks instead (really), according to Robbins.

“It does take the healthy sleeper about 15 minutes to fall asleep, but much longer than that… make sure to get out of bed, change the environment and do something that's mindless,” she says.

Drink a nightcap to help you sleep

A “quick nightcap” might seem like a great way to help you wind down, but it will severely affect the quality of your rest, disrupting your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which is associated with memory.

READ MORE: Why night owls struggle with working 9 to 5

"It may help you fall asleep, but it dramatically reduces the quality of your rest that night," says Robbins.

Hit the snooze button

Are you one of those people who sets their alarm at 6:30am so they can snooze through until 7am? According to Robbins, this has got to stop.

"Your body will go back to sleep, but it will be very light, low-quality sleep,” she says.

Make sure you get straight out of bed instead.

It’s OK to snore

Snoring is generally treated as a harmless habit (for you, at least, perhaps not your long-suffering partner).

READ MORE: How to fall asleep in five seconds flat

But loud snoring is apparently a warning sign which needs to be checked out, as it could point to sleep apnea, a sleep disorder where breathing stops and starts throughout the night – with the potential to lead to heart stoppages or other illnesses.