Sleep truth or sleep myth? The best advice for a better night’s sleep

April 10th, 2018

Avoiding cheese, watching TV and exercising before bed are all popular pieces of advice which are said to help us get some much-needed shut eye – but could they actually be harming the quality of our sleep?

We recently conducted research to find out more about the UK’s sleeping habits, and to separate the nation’s well-established sleep truths from sleep myths once and for all.

Our research found that nearly half of us (45%) are following advice that could be compromising our sleep quality, but can you tell sleep fact from sleep fiction? The results revealed the most widely believed, but incorrect, pieces of sleep wisdom are:

  • Yawning is a sign of tiredness (60%)
  • We need eight hours of sleep every night (59%)
  • More sleep is better for you (56%)
  • The older you get, the fewer hours sleep you need (53%)
  • You can always catch up on sleep (52%)
  • Exercising just before bed helps you sleep better (50%)
  • Going to bed early always helps you sleep better (42%)
  • You train yourself to get by with just four hours of sleep (39%)
  • Watching TV or using an electronic device helps you drift off (35%)
  • Eating cheese before bed will guarantee nightmares (28%)
  • Drinking alcohol before bedtime ensures you sleep deeply (28%)

To help, our resident sleep expert Neil Robinson, has debunked some of the most popular sleep myths.

The older you get, the fewer hours sleep you need

It’s a common misconception that as you get older you need less sleep, but actually, our sleep needs don’t change that drastically in adulthood. As people age, they might find it harder to nod off and to stay asleep, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need as much sleep as younger people. Waking up more frequently in the night, a decline in the amount of deep sleep and finding it increasingly difficult to fall asleep are all common complaints in older adults, but it’s not necessarily a normal part of ageing.

Eating cheese before bed gives you nightmares

It may be a tale that your grandma scared you with when you were younger, but luckily for cheese lovers, there’s no evidence that eating dairy products before bed gives you nightmares. On the other hand, eating a heavy meal late in the evening has been shown to cause indigestion, which in turn could give you a restless night’s sleep, so it might be best to share your after-dinner cheese board to be on the safe side!

Drinking alcohol before bed guarantees a deeper sleep

You may find that having an alcoholic drink before bed helps you drop off to sleep quicker, but when it comes to having a deep, restful slumber, alcohol can actually play havoc with your sleeping pattern. This is because alcohol causes your body to spend less time in deep sleep, and more time in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep which is characterised by more bodily movements, more dreams and a faster pulse. In a nutshell, it’s a less restful stage of sleep, which means after a drink you’ll often wake up more tired, no matter how many hours of sleep you’ve had.

Yawning is a sign of tiredness

It’s true that yawning can be a sign of tiredness, but that doesn’t mean being sleepy is the only reason we yawn. In reality, recent studies have suggested that it’s actually a mechanism to cool down your brain, with a yawn bringing outside air into the body, which helps your brain to work optimum efficiency. Yawning is also known to be contagious, with one study finding that you’re more likely to ‘catch’ a yawn from a friend, partner or family member. So, next time someone asks if they’re keeping you awake, you can tell them you’re actually just showing your affection.

Exercising before bed helps you sleep

It makes sense that tiring yourself out by hitting the gym would help you sleep, but in reality exercising before bed can actually keep you awake for longer. While you may feel physically tired after a workout, the increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol that come with exercise mean that your brain could still be awake long after your body has checked out. On the other hand, exercise is a great way of keeping healthy and combating stress, both of which will help you sleep. Try to exercise at least two hours before bed to reap the benefits of exercise, without the struggle to get to sleep.

It might sound simple, but there’s no need to overcomplicate things when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Get the basics right by ensure your sleeping environment is calm and quiet, you have a regular pre-sleep routine and choose a comfortable and supportive bed. Find the right bed for the best night’s sleep here: /beds-mattresses/beds/bed-selector/