Common myths about sleep pose a serious threat to our health, according to a new study.
Scientists say the idea that you can live with less than five hours of sleep or have a drink at night helps avoid the widely accepted misconceptions.
In fact, they argue that not only do these beliefs shape bad habits, but they can also pose a significant threat to public health.
Researchers at the University of New York School of Medicine have reviewed more than 8,000 websites to identify the 20 most common sleep hypotheses.
With a team of sleep medicine experts, they rated them based on whether each could be dispelled as a myth or supported by scientific evidence, and on the damages that the myth could cause.
Study leader Dr. Rebecca Robbins, an epidemiologist at the University of New York School of Medicine (NYU), said: "Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and overall health and well-being."
"Dissipating the myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote better overall health."
1. You can survive in less than five hours of sleep
With fame, Margaret Thatcher claimed that she could spend only four hours a night.
But the idea you might have in five hours of sleep was among the top myths the researchers were able to undo based on scientific evidence.
They say that this also represents the most serious risk to the health of long-term sleep deficits.
Dr. Robbins said, "We have a lot of evidence to show that sleeping five hours or less consistently increases the risk of adverse health consequences greatly."
These included cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, and shorter life expectancy.
Instead, she recommends that everyone try to sleep seven to eight hours a night.
2. Snoring is harmless
Another common myth concerns snoring, which many probably find harmless.
But researchers say it may also be a sign of sleep apnea – a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing begins and ends in the course of the night.
The team said that patients should not dispense loud snoring, but rather seek a doctor, since this behavior of sleep can lead to cardiac arrest or other diseases.
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3. Drinking for bed increases sleep
You may be someone waiting for a nightcap before bed.
But the team found enough evidence in published studies that, despite beliefs to the contrary, drinking alcohol at night is actually unhealthy for sleep.
According to experts, alcohol reduces the body's ability to achieve deep sleep, which people need to function properly.
Dr. Robbins said, "This may help you fall asleep, but it drastically reduces the quality of your rest that night."
4. Watching TV helps you relax
Many of us turn on the television to help us doze off.
But the researchers found that this could cause more stress before bed.
Dr. Robbins said, "Often, if we're watching television, it's the nightly news … it's something that will cause insomnia or stress before bed when we're trying to shut down and relax."
Just like a phone or tablet, a television screen produces blue light, which can delay the production of sleep hormone melatonin.
5. Snoozing your alarm is not so bad for you
Many of us are wanting a few extra minutes in bed in the morning.
Some may even deliberately set the alarm before they can press the snooze button.
But the researchers found that this could actually make you feel worse, and instead, we should just get up as soon as we wake up.
Dr. Robbins said, "Realize you will be a bit groggy – we all are – but resist the temptation to nap.
"Your body will go back to sleep, but it will be a very light sleep and of poor quality."
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The researchers, whose findings are published in Sleep Health, say some myths still cause disagreement – even among experts.
For example, weekend comings upset the natural circadian rhythm or the biological clock.
But for people in certain professions – such as shift workers, it may be better for them to sleep than to have fewer hours overall.
These discrepancies, they say, suggest that more research needs to be done.
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