14 Of The Biggest Myths About Sleep, Debunked

Shutterstock/Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley

Myth: Insomnia just means you can't fall asleep.

Difficulty falling asleep is one type of insomnia, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but it's not the only one. Other forms include the inability to fall back asleep after waking early, waking up throughout the night, and even waking up feeling unrefreshed.

Being able to identify sleep problems is the first step towards getting help — and fortunately, there are useful recommendations doctors have for dealing with insomnia.

Myth: If you wake up in the middle of the night, you should just stay in bed.

If you can stay relaxed in bed, experts say that can help you fall back asleep. But if you're starting to feel agitated or simply can't drift back off, sleep experts say you should stop trying so hard. 

If it's been longer than 20 minutes, go do something else. Avoid things that'll trigger strong emotional responses and stay away from stimulating screens like your computer, phone, or television. Try and read a book or drink some tea.

Myth: There's no harm in a nightcap.

A nightcap can be appealing and it should help you drift off, right? After all, it's in the name!

Unfortunately, this old tradition goes back to the days before we understood much about sleep. Research shows that having an alcoholic drink right before bed truly can make it slightly easier to fall asleep. But you don't sleep as deeply for the rest of the night.

Most experts say that if you want to sleep well, you should cut yourself off at least a few hours before bed.

Myth: Melatonin supplements will help you sleep better.

Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

If sleeping pills are no good, a "natural" supplement seems fine, right? After all, your body produces melatonin as a cue to tell you that it's time for sleep.

But the research on melatonin supplements isn't encouraging. First of all, they don't really seem to help people fall asleep. Some research has shown that people fall asleep a few minutes faster on supplemental melatonin, but the biggest improvement is probably a placebo, according to Walker.

Supplements in the US are also largely unregulated, and studies have shown that the amount of "melatonin" in supplements could be none at all or could be almost five times what's on the label.

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