4 Common Sleep Myths That Can Harm Your Health

It’s time to take your slumberland knowledge seriously, say researchers.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

If you believe that it’s OK to get by on only five hours of sleep, that snoring is no biggie, and having a nightcap will help you sleep better, it’s time for a wake-up call.

These notions are, plain and simple, false. But they’re some of the most commonly believed myths about sleep — and they could be seriously threatening your health, according to a new study by the NYU School of Medicine.

The study, published in Sleep Health on April 16, determined the 20 most common beliefs about sleep by reviewing more than 8,000 websites. A team of sleep medicine experts helped the researchers rank each assumption based on whether it was backed by scientific evidence or whether it was a myth. For the assumptions deemed myths, they ranked them based on the potential harm they could cause.

"Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and general health and well-being," said study lead investigator, Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, in a press release. "Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health."

Myth #1: Five hours of sleep is enough to get by

The most dangerous myth the researchers discovered? The belief that it’s A-OK to get by on five hours of sleep or fewer. Regularly getting this little snooze-time could result in serious long-term sleep issues.

For example, not getting enough sleep ups your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health — not to mention that is hurts your overall performance throughout the day and can make you more likely to be depressed or anxious. To avoid health problems, experts at the National Sleep Foundation say you need at least seven hours of sleep per night.

Myth #2: Snoring is annoying, but not harmful

While some snoring isn’t a problem, Robbins said, it can also be a warning sign of sleep apnea, which is a serious disorder that causes you to start stop breathing periodically during sleep. Sleep apnea also increases your risk of heart problems and other issues. If your just snoring occasionally, it’s probably fine, but if your snoring loudly, and regularly, don’t pass it off as NBD — schedule a check-up with your doctor to make sure it’s not a sign of something deeper.

Myth #3: Alcohol before bed can help you get your Zzzs

While that glass of wine before bed can definitely make your eyelids heavy, consuming booze in the four hours before shut-eye is decidedly not good for you, according to the study. Alcohol actually gets in the way of your body’s ability to fall into a deep sleep — and you need that deep sleep to function properly during the daytime. So say no to the nightcap.

Myth #4: Napping is the solution to insomnia

Turns out, many people believe that taking daytime naps can help if you have trouble sleeping at night. While short naps of about 20 minutes can, in fact, be helpful and leave you feeling refreshed, per the National Sleep Foundation, you should avoid longer ones. Anything over 20 minutes can make you feel even more tired, and it can make it harder for you to sleep during the night when you really need it.

The key to avoiding these harmful practices? Try to create a consistent sleep schedule, and follow these other helpful sleep hygiene tips:

  • Don’t spend time in bed unless it’s for sleep or sex. Otherwise, your brain will start to associate your bed with things other than shut-eye, which will make it hard to get the rest you need.

  • If you’re struggling to doze off for more than half an hour, get up and do something else for a while. Then try again after another half hour.

  • Get regular exercise — it’s proven to help you sleep better.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.