LIFE
30/05/2019 12:54 AM AEST

3 Of The Biggest Sleep Myths, Debunked By Scientists

Yes, having less than 5 hours of kip a night is bad for you.

You might think you can get by on five hours sleep, that snoring is harmless, and having booze will help you nod off – but these are all myths, researchers say. 

These widely-held sleep myths are not only shaping poor bedtime habits, but might also pose a “significant public health threat”, according to a new analysis.

“Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and general health and wellbeing,” said study lead investigator, Rebecca Robbins, from New York University.

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

Darumo via Getty Images

Researchers from New York University reviewed more than 8,000 websites to identify the most common assumptions about sleep.

With a team of sleep medicine experts, they ranked them based on whether each could be dispelled as a myth, or supported by scientific evidence – and these were the biggest three sleep myths believed by many. 

Myth 1: You Can Get By On Five Hours Sleep Or Less.

The claim that people can get by on five hours of sleep was among the top myths researchers were able to dispel based on scientific evidence. They say this myth poses the most serious risk to health from long-term sleep deficits.

To overcome this, Robbins and her colleagues suggest creating a consistent sleep schedule and spending more time – at least seven hours – asleep.

Myth 2: Snoring Is Harmless.

Another common myth relates to snoring – and while Robbins says it can be harmless, it can also be a sign of sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder where breathing starts and stops over the course of the night.

The authors encourage patients to see a doctor if they are loud snorers, since this sleep behaviour may lead to heart stoppages.

Myth 3: Drinking Before Bed Will Help You Sleep.

The study authors also found sufficient evidence in published studies that, despite beliefs to the contrary, drinking alcoholic beverages before bed is unhealthy for sleep.

Alcohol reduces the body’s ability to achieve deep sleep, which people need to function properly, they say.

Other less common myths they dispelled in the study include: watching TV in bed helps you relax; if you struggle to sleep you should stay in bed; and hitting the snooze button is good for sleep. 

Study co-author Girardin Jean Louis says there needs to be a greater effort to inform the public about the importance of sleep and healthy habits to maintain.

“By discussing sleep habits with their patients, doctors can help prevent sleep myths from increasing risks for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes,” says Louis. 

The researchers acknowledge that some myths still cause disagreement among sleep experts – for instance, although sleeping in on weekends does disrupt the natural circadian rhythm, for people in certain professions, it may be better for them to sleep in than to get fewer hours of sleep overall.

These discrepancies, they say, suggest that further research needs to be done.