10 sleep rules and the real truth behind them

MENTION you had a bad night’s sleep and you’ll be inundated with advice – whether you asked for it or not.

People will say: "Did you stay up too late? Did you snack before bed? Maybe your bedroom is too hot, too cold, or too light.

"Maybe you need to invest in a new quilt, a thicker eye mask, a fancy white noise machine?"

They'll blame your phone by your pillow, or the fact you didn’t take the right supplement that morning, say you might need to overhaul your diet too.

It’s tricky though when the “perfect” night’s sleep is different for everyone, and what helps us drift off changes person to person.

But there are some universal ‘sleep rules’ many of us live by. 

Here, we sort sleep truth from snooze myth…

1. Going to bed early is always good for you

MYTH: Apparently not. According to James Wilson, a sleep practitioner and co-founder of Beingwell, “for most people, going to bed earlier will make things a lot, lot worse, because if you're not an early lark – and only 10 per cent of us are – you're not going to benefit from going to bed earlier.”

He reckons 10pm is too early for bed for many of us.

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“Any time you spend in bed and not asleep is dangerous, because it's liable to get you more stressed.

"The more stressed we are, the less likely we are to sleep.”

2. You don’t need eight hours kip every night

TRUTH: It's touted as the holy grail of sleep – a full eight hours in the land of nod.

But really, eight hours is a luxury most of us don’t have.

But don’t feel bad about it – you may not <need> eight hours.

“Not everyone needs eight hours of sleep, and that only takes into account quantity, not quality,” says James.

The NHS says most adults need between six and nine hours, and James says the best indicator that you’ve had enough is whether you feel tired or awake when it comes to mid to late-morning.

So ask yourself: “Have I had enough sleep to feel alert and active at 10 or 11 in the morning?”

3. Watching TV helps you unwind ready for bed

MYTH: Just like your phone, TVs emit blue light which can delay the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

So while a bit of telly before bed might seem like a relaxing option, you could actually be inadvertently ramping up your stress levels. 

Dr Rebecca Robbins, an epidemiologist at New York University's (NYU's) School of Medicine, says: "Often if we're watching the television it's the nightly news… it's something that's going to cause you insomnia or stress right before bed when we're trying to power down and relax."

4. It’s fine to nap during the day if you’re tired

MYTH: Napping might help you get through the day after a bad night, but it can also decrease ‘sleep pressure’ – that’s you need to sleep, which builds during the day.

A nap can reduce that need. “That makes you less likely to fall asleep at night,” says James.

“A lot of people think naps work, when they can make things worse.”

5. Drinking alcohol can ruin your sleep

TRUE: A nightcap is such a nice idea, but sadly alcohol reduces the body's ability to achieve deep sleep which people need to function properly.

Dr Robbins, says: "It may help you fall asleep, but it dramatically reduces the quality of your rest that night."

6. You can catch up on sleep at the weekend

MYTH: Sorry, but lie-ins can make things worse too.

Going from 7am starts Monday-Friday, to staying in bed until 10am on Saturday and Sunday, can throw your sleep pressure off.

“By the time Sunday night comes about, that little bit of inconsistency can cause people to form a social jet lag, where the body gets a little bit confused,” says James.

“It makes sleep harder on Sunday night.” Leaving you thoroughly groggy on Monday morning. 

7. A weighted blanket will fix all your issues

MYTH: Weighted blankets are all the rage right now. Many people swear the heaviness helps them feel calm and drift off more easily.  

However, James says: “If you like being tucked in with a heavy duvet, they're perfect.

"But if you are one of the people who, when you get to a hotel you pull all the sheets out of the bed, then a weighted blanket is your worst nightmare and will make you sleep worse.”

8. Sleeping for fewer than five hours isn’t advised

TRUE: There are people who claim they never get more than three hours of sleep – and yet they’re fully functioning humans.

Don’t believe it, says Dr Robbins: "We have extensive evidence to show sleeping five hours or less consistently, increases your risk greatly for adverse health consequences."

These include heart attack and strokes, and shorter life expectancy.

9. Snoring is totally harmless

MYTH: Snoring is absolutely annoying for whoever’s in bed beside you, but it can also be a sign of sleep apnoea – a potentially serious sleep disorder where breathing starts and stops during night.

It has been linked with heart stoppages, obesity and high blood pressure.

10. Pressing snooze won’t help you get a few more decent winks

TRUE: We all want to do it, but resist, says Dr Robbins, and don’t deliberately set your alarm earlier so you can hit the snooze button.

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"Realise you will be a bit groggy – all of us are – but resist the temptation to snooze.

"Your body will go back to sleep, but it will be very light, low-quality sleep," she says.

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