For whatever reason, sleep tends to get a bad rap. For one reason or another, people don’t think they need it, consider it a waste of time, or feel that it really isn’t a top priority when they’re still younger. After all, you’ll have all kinds of time to sleep when you’re old.
However, the truth is that sleep is very important and putting it off for a few hours one night to make up your lost shuteye another time doesn’t actually work. Getting sufficient sleep is essential to human health, function, development, and performance. It is part of the “holy trinity of health,” which also includes nutrition and exercise. It plays a key role in a healthy existence, influencing your mood, weight, cognitive function, appearance, and so on. It is important to your overall existence—which means it’s also important that you learn the truth about some popular sleep myths…
Myth #1: You Can Get Used to Sleeping Less
This is a popular myth because, for the most part, it feels like you can. However, what you might be feeling isn’t an accurate perception of reality. The truth is that your body doesn’t actually adjust to getting less sleep. So let’s say you’re starting a new shift at work, and instead of working from 9 to 5, you’re working from 8 to 4. If you keep the same bedtime, your body won’t adjust, even if it seems to become increasingly easier to wake up at an earlier hour. In fact, studies show that even as people think they have adjusted, their cognitive and functional abilities actually decline over time. As your sleep deficit grows, so does your inability to perform. Why don’t you notice? Because while you’ve become increasingly impaired, you are less equipped to notice!
Myth #2: You Can Catch Up on Sleep
Sometimes, you have a busy week and you just don’t get as much sleep as you need. Other times, you put sleep on the backburner because you don’t want to miss something; you tell yourself it’s fine because you’ll make up for the lost sleep on the weekend. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. When you don’t get as much sleep as you need, you accumulate something called “sleep debt.” Much like real debt, sleep debt can take a while to pay (sleep) off. Let’s say, for example, you need eight hours of sleep per night to function effectively. If you shave two hours off per night from Monday to Friday, you’re 10 hours in the hole by the time the weekend comes around. If you sleep in for an additional three hours each day of the weekend, you’re still down four hours. Having a sleep deficit means you’ll be moodier and absent-minded, you won’t be able to perform as well, and you’ll have problems functioning in general. The best way to sleep off debt is to add an hour or two per night and rely on your body’s natural clock to wake you. Go to bed when you’re tired and wake up when your body tells you to!
Myth #3: It’s a Waste of Time
I’ll always remember the line “I never sleep, ’cause sleep is the cousin of death” from one of my favorite songs. As much as I enjoy the song, this lyric couldn’t be less true. Sleep is ultimately what allows you to enjoy life. During sleep, your body rests and recovers and a number of physiological processes take place to clean and recharge your body and mind before it goes to work again tomorrow. Look at sleep as a an enjoyable experience and not something that will rob you of something else!
Myth #4: You Can Will Yourself to Sleep
One of the worst things you can do is lay in bed trying to fall asleep. Laying in bed trying to fall asleep actually makes it more difficult to fall asleep and can increase your risk of developing long-term insomnia. If you can’t fall asleep when you get into bed, get out of bed and do something quiet, like reading a book or working on a puzzle—something relaxing that does not involve looking at your smartphone, television, or any other digital screen—until you are sleepy. When you catch yourself dozing off or your eyes starting to get tired and heavy, head to bed!
Sources for Today’s Article:
Klein, S., “7 Things Sleep Experts Wish You Would Stop Saying About Getting Your Zzs,” The Huffington Post web site, July 7, 2014; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/sleep-pet-peeves_n_5544915.html.
Webster, M., “Can You Catch Up On Lost Sleep?” Scientific American web site, May 6, 2008; http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-can-you-catch-up-on-sleep/, last accessed July 8, 2014.