Too many times, I have seen clients struggle with insomnia and trying their best to sleep better, but because they have false beliefs around what actually helps us sleep - or keeps us from sleeping well! - their efforts get unrewarded, and often even counter productive.
Let’s review together 3 fallacies around sleep that could have kept you from getting restorative sleep for years and decades.
Myth #1 - Alcohol helps you sleep
Alcohol can help you relax, unwind, and sometimes it can even make you slightly drowsy. So, if you have a drink or two at night, you might fall asleep more easily than if you stick to water. Unfortunately, the apparent sleep-promoting effect of alcohol won’t last, and alcohol will pretty much ruin the quality of your sleep.
Let’s review how alcohol messes up your sleep.
You have probably noticed that alcohol has a strong dehydrating effect on your body, which will mostly likely wake you up at night for 2 reasons:
- First, you will want to get up and use the restrooms in the middle of the night. The urge to urinate will be strong enough to wake you up.
- Second, you will want to get up and get a glass of water or, if you don’t, you will be very uncomfortable with a dry mouth and maybe even a headache. Chances are, you will wake up very early in the morning, most likely before your alarm goes off.
There are even more side effects to alcohol!
On top of draining the water out of your body, alcohol also aggravates breathing problems such as snoring and sleep apnea.
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Furthermore, it has the ability to mess up your sleep cycles because alcohol tends to block REM sleep. To make things simple, REM is when we dream and it’s considered one of the most restorative stages of our sleep cycle. So, if you drink alcohol at night, you won’t feel as rested when you wake up the next morning and you might even feel slightly groggy, even if you think you had a great night' sleep because you were initially able to fall asleep like a baby.
If you are not convinced yet, know that once the “depressant” effect of alcohol has passed, you might experience a sudden “burst of energy” that is sometimes called “rebound awareness”. This will most likely wake you up in the middle of the night, especially if you are already slightly uncomfortable because you are thirsty, need to run to the bathroom, or are not sleeping very deeply because you don’t breathe well.
What does that mean in real life?
It’s pretty straight forward. If you feel tired in the morning or if you wake up several times throughout the night, the first step you can take is to go one full week without alcohol and see what happens. If you are under a lot of stress, maybe you can try other ways to unwind at night: mediation, gentle exercise, walking, stretching, or picking up a calming activity such as painting, knitting, coloring, or reading a book.
Myth #2 - Naps will ruin your sleep
It can actually be true sometimes and for some people, but it’s very personal and it’s not systematic.
It is important to know that it is perfectly normal to feel a dip in our energy level in the middle of the day. This is how we are wired. You have probably heard about cortisol, also called the “stress hormone”. Cortisol is not all bad. It is actually the hormone that helps us get up in the morning and go through our day without dragging our feet. Cortisol is released naturally in the morning to get us ready for the day and it is supposed to go down at night, so that we can slow down, relax, and go to bed. But there is also a dip in our cortisol production during the day, around lunch time.
If we are well rested and engaged in some exciting and fun activities, we might not even notice. But if we are already tired, if we find ourselves in a boring meeting, or if we just had a heavy meal, high in fat and sugar, chances are we will feel very sleepy.
That’s when a nap can do wonders!
Should you nap or not?
If you love taking naps or if you need to take naps - both are equally good reasons to take a nap by the way - you just have to keep an eye on your sleep quality and make sure that naps don’t affect your ability to fall asleep in the evening and to stay asleep throughout the night.
For most people, taking a nap later in the afternoon will keep them from falling asleep in the evening. For others, taking long naps might mess up their sleep cycles completely and force them to become “night owls” when they would naturally be early birds and go to bed early.
There is a good chance that taking a 10 to 20-minute nap around lunch time won’t do you much harm, but if you are struggling with sleep in the first place, it is important to experiment and keep track of what you notice. Don’t just go with what others tells you. It is YOUR sleep, YOUR body, and YOU are unique, so you will have to figure things out for yourself.
Myth #3 - Older people need less sleep
It is true that adults need less sleep that children and teens, but research suggests that our sleeping needs remain pretty much the same through adulthood, no matter how old we are.
Yet, as we age, some changes in our body and in our life might affect sleep greatly. Not only its duration, but also it’s restorative quality.
Let’s review a few of these changes.
- Seniors go to bed earlier
As a result, they wake up very early and have the feeling that they don’t sleep as long as they used to, when actually they just start their night's sleep much earlier than before.
One of my clients had spend most of her adult life going to bed around midnight and waking up at 7 am in the morning to get the kids ready for school and go to work. She was not really a night owl, but the hours after dinner were precious to her, as they represented her only way to catch up on work and get a little me-time. Once retired and an empty nester, she started going to bed earlier and earlier and would often fall asleep by 9 pm. She would wake up around 4 am and feel like she was having insomnia, but she was actually getting the exact same amount of sleep than before.
- We don't sleep as deeply when we age
Science has shown that older adults spend more time in the light stages of sleep and less time in the deep stages of sleep. As a result, they wake up more easily throughout the night and don’t feel as refreshed in the morning.
My grandma would say to me every single morning “I didn’t get a wink sleep all night!” As a teen, I remember being SO aggravated, convinced that she just wanted extra attention. Well, she might have been a tad dramatic, but she was actually not pretending, and definitely not lying. She really had the feeling that she had not slept at all, because she had woken up so often throughout out the night.
- Mature adults don’t sleep as "smoothly".
Many elderly people have illnesses and take medications that interfere with their sleep duration and with the quality of their sleep. Furthermore, they might not be quite as active physically, which leads to difficulty sleeping, and sometimes also a lower need for recovery and rest.
How can we sleep well as we age?
It is important to first assess whether or not you are sleep deprived. If you are not, there is no need to try and work toward more sleep. If you don't feel rested though, you will have to identify what might be the culprit for your poor sleep quality and then take the necessary actions. You might have to talk to your health care provider about alternatives to certain medicines. You might have to bump up your level of physical activity throughout the day, and also challenge yourself mentally in order to be more tired in the evening. Of course, just like everyone else, you might also have to keep your alcohol consumption in check and make sure that you are not eating more than you need during the day and especially at dinner time.
Hopefully, debunking these sleep myths was helpful for you. If you need more help with your sleep, check out my best-seller SLEEP IF OFF, A Revolutionary Guide to Loosing Weight, Beating Diabetes, and Feeling Your Best Through Optimal Rest. it has already help any people figure out what was wrong with their sleep and what they could do about it!
Also, if you are truly committed to improving your sleep but don't know where to start, you can apply for a Discovery Call with me. Just click the button below and tell me a little more about your struggles and your goals. If I have a feeling that I could help you, I will offer you a FREE Discovery Consultation.
I wish you all the best with your sleep. Don't hesitate to reach out, I am always happy to hear from you! Sweet Dreams...