Updated: Jan 11
Sleep is something that is core to every human on the planet. It affects our physical, emotional and mental health in so many ways. Yet, despite the importance, its secrets are often still clouded in mystery, preventing people from getting the solid night sleep they need. Let's spend a few minutes debunking three common sleep myths to gain a lifetime of clarity for nighttime slumber. MYTH (1) I need to get 8 hours of sleep to be well rested. In general, every myth has a bit of truth, but we have to separate the wheat from the chaff to understand where these rules apply and where they don't. Yes it's true, many of us could benefit from a full 8 hours of sleep, but there are a few problems with buying into this, hook line and sinker:
Many people can function well on much less sleep, and eight hours wouldn't be the most productive use of their time.
It can be unrealistic to expect our bodies to sleep that much, especially as we get older. Realistic sleep expectations are vital to a good night's rest.
Many people who struggle with insomnia end up "catastrophizing" sleep. They think, "Oh no, if I don't fall asleep now, my day will be doomed." Much better to take the pressure off any hard number of hours and focus on the sleep that they do get.
Sometimes, a little sleep debt is actually a good thing. Getting less that 8 hours per night helps us feel exhausted in the evening and makes falling asleep easier.
So yes, 8 hours is nice, but not essential for most and certainly shouldn't be set in stone.
MYTH (2) Insomnia is a disease that has no cure. A quick google search reveals the way that the medical world couches insomnia. Everything they say is true, but the way it is framed does an injustice to the very patients that they are trying to help. Check out this screenshot from the Mayo Clinic.
Imagine not being able to sleep, doing some google research, only to find out that you have an "incurable condition". That type of language wreaks havoc in one's mind and pushes sleep farther away that ever. Let's take a look at the way WebMD frames insomnia:
Of course, this is all true. But our sleepless soul has now been branded with labels like "chronic" or "acute" given to him by well meaning people. Carrying those labels to bed at night simply reinforce his inability to sleep. The first thing I do when I meet someone who suffers from insomnia is spend time removing all these negative labels and associations. Insomnia is much better defined by it's symptoms. Yes, you can't sleep, but that is not who you are. We can change all of that. Here's a sample of what I give my clients to help begin to shed away these labels.
I ask people to put this on the background of their phone. See this 100 a day, and you will start thinking about your ability to sleep in a whole different way. Many people aren't naturally great sleepers, but that doesn't define them or predict their future. I was a perfect example of this, and you could be too. MYTH (3) Sleeping pills are my best substitute if I can't fall asleep naturally. The proliferation of sleeping pills in today is wild. An estimated 9% of Americans use prescription sleeping pills on a regular basis. It's a +$40 billion dollar industry and the numbers are only going up. For many people, their first port of call for sleeping issues is their GP. Trying to help the situation of exhausted and demanding patients, well meaning physicians prescribe the best and the brightest in the sleeping pill space, upwards of 200,000,000 monthly scripts a year in the US alone. And while it says all over the pill labels that they aren't meant to be taken long term and they are habit forming, it's a lot easier getting on then getting off. You might be asking, why is it that bad? They help people get sleep, are they that dangerous? The first thing to be aware of is that there is a difference between sleeping naturally vs. chemically inducing ones brain into sleep. Natural sleep uses your brains own chemistry to restore itself, carefully weaving in and out of REM cycles throughout the night. Sleeping pills attempt to bypass your brains natural biochemistry and put you in a proverbial headlock. Besides waking up groggy, the positive affects of sleep are not the same. But, to make matters worse, they are associated with all sorts of health risks, increased cancer, "sleep driving" and a host of others factors you'd probably rather avoid. Check out Dr Sharon Orrange's FULL ARTICLE on the topic. A friend in LA told me an "Ambien Story" about his neighbor. This fellow took his Ambien, fell asleep, and woke up in the LAPD prison on charges for drunk driving. Turns out that at 2 am while sleeping, he decided to fire up his Bentley, and go cruising down his block, knocking into 26 cars along the way, before he totaled his Bentley as well. Can't say this happens to everyone, but bottom line: sleeping pills are not your best friends forever. They have their place, but the majority of people who use them could really go without and get real sleep every night of the week.
Doron Lazarus is the founder of Executive Sleep Consulting.
Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit at www.executivesleep.org