10 common sleep myths: Put bad habits to rest and wake up a better sleeping routine

By Faith Bernstein, Nidhi Singh & Will Linendoll

Ah, sleep. Why is our most precious recharging resource so scarce in our busy, modern lives?

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We all know the excuses: demanding schedules, social lives and screen time. Sometimes it’s subconscious, but we’re all making decisions to do these things instead of getting the sleep we need.

ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton walked us through some of the most common myths about sleep to set the record straight.

Myth 1: I can function just fine on 5 to 6 hours of sleep, so I don’t need to change my habits

FALSE: 95% of adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.

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Getting enough sleep, is a “massive problem in this country,” according to Ashton.

“Sleep has a PR problem. I think we look at sleep like it’s a luxury, but it’s actually a medical necessity,” she said. “Just because you can function on less sleep doesn’t mean you should function on less sleep.”(MORE: Could Goku sleep therapy, a Japanese head massage, finally cure my sleep woes?)

Myth 2: If I don’t get enough sleep during the week, I can make it up over the weekend

FALSE: “Our body’s circadian rhythms are finely tuned and connected to regular sleep behavior. And our hormones, our metabolism, all kinds of neurotransmitters, are all tied into those circadian rhythms and when we’re sleeping,” Ashton said.

Weekend schedules often vary from our weekdays, but it’s best to not alter your sleep schedule by more than an hour on either end.

“Locking down a sleep schedule is not just important for infants and babies; it’s really important for adults as well,” Ashton said.

Myth 3: I might be tired the next day, but there are no long-term effects of not getting enough sleep

FALSE: “People who consistently get insufficient sleep are at increased risk for neurocognitive decline, dementia, poor concentration, mood disorders like depression and anxiety — and that’s just from the neck up,” Ashton said.

Poor sleep affects our ability to efficiently metabolize food, and puts us at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer, Ashton added.

Myth 4: It’s OK and faster to fall asleep with the TV on

FALSE: “Don’t fall asleep with the TV on,” Ashton said. “You might think you’re asleep, but your brain is registering that light, and it’s actually stimulating your brain and helping to prevent good, quality sleep.”

On that note, any light that’s visible to you — even a street lamp in the distance or a hall light under the door — is affecting your sleep. Blackout curtains are your best friend. (MORE: Why you really shouldn’t sleep near your phone: Artificial light at night linked to weight gain in women in new study)

Myth 5: You get better sleep when your bedroom is cold

TRUE: If you often get up the middle of the night, it might be your body waking you up because you’re sweating or too hot.

Ashton keeps her room at a cool 66 degrees year-round for a restful and undisturbed night of sleep, but you can adjust your levels to whatever feels comfortable for you.

Myth 6: Bedtime starts when you get in bed

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FALSE: You should unplug an hour before you want to go to bed. Put your phone down, turn off the TV and get off the computer. Even dimming the lights in your house will signal to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.

Treat yourself to a warm bath or shower, drink chamomile tea or read a good book.

Then by the time you get into your bed, “Your brain should say I’m here to sleep,” Ashton said.

Myth 7: Getting exercise during the day will help you get better sleep

TRUE: If you exercise for 30 to 60 minutes during the day, you’ll be more tired by the time you get into bed.

Ashton also recommends meditation at some point in the day as another way to ensure you fall asleep more easily.

Myth 8: It’s OK to use sleeping pills

FALSE: “I can’t emphasize this enough — there are no prescription sleeping pills that are approved for long-term use,” Ashton said.

While they can be safe and effective in the short term, they affect your brain chemistry and are harmful to use long term.(MORE: Going to bed at different times can hurt your health. Here are 5 apps to help)

Myth 9: You can’t get too much sleep

FALSE: Too little or too much sleep is bad for you.

“Too much sleep sends different messages to our body … maybe we’re sick, maybe we’re injured,” Ashton said.

“It disrupts our circadian rhythms, our metabolisms. Don’t be lured into this false sense of security that more is better — when it comes to sleep, that’s not true,” she added.

Myth 10: Naps disrupt your sleep

FALSE: Nappers, rejoice! A quick, 20-minute power nap can help your body recharge and won’t impact your sleep.

For all of us who often find ourselves taking non-optional naps during the day, remember: A nap longer than an hour is too much, and you can’t nap in lieu of getting the full seven to nine hours you need.

“When you hear the recommendation of seven to nine hours a night,” Ashton said, “that refers to continuous sleep.”

How Excessive Sleep Can Affect Your Metabolism

Few people worry about spending too much time in bed. An extra hour or two of stolen sleep on Sunday can feel like heaven after a long week of work and family activities. But did you know that clocking more than the recommended amount can negatively impact your health?

For most adults, getting between seven and nine hours of sleep a night is ideal. Although a small percentage of people actually need 10 hours, for most adults sleeping more hours than the recommended amount may indicate an underlying health concern. In addition, regularly sleeping more than the suggested amount may increase the risk of obesity, headache, back pain, and heart disease. And a recent study discovered that oversleeping can put the body at risk for metabolic issues. Learn more about how excessive sleep can impact your metabolism.

What the Science Says

In a recent study, researchers analyzed the health, medical histories, and sleep totals of a group of more than 130,000 men and women ages 40 to 69. With this data, researchers were able to link sleeping less than six hours, as well as sleeping more than 10 hours, to cases of metabolic syndrome and related symptoms.

Understanding Metabolic Syndrome

People diagnosed with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following symptoms: Excess fat around the middle, hypertension, low levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, high fasting blood glucose and high triglyceride levels. In the study, 29 percent of men were deemed to have metabolic syndrome, while a quarter of women showed signs of it.

There are some notable differences between genders when it comes to sleep and metabolism. In particular, women who sleep less than six hours a night may have more belly fat than those who sleep longer, while men are likely to have both bigger waists and metabolic syndrome if they sleep less than six hours. On the other hand, women who sleep 10 or more hours have a much higher risk for metabolic syndrome, while in men it correlates to higher triglyceride levels as well.

Red Flags for Metabolism Issues

For most people, feelings of excessive sleepiness that arise even if they meet the recommended seven to nine hours a night may reflect recent lifestyle changes, such as a new work schedule, job relocation, or increase in physical exercise. It could also be a sign of a disorder such as sleep apnea that results in poor sleep quality, leaving people tired in the morning. But because there may be other health issues at play, including Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety, infections, and gastrointestinal disorders, if you are experiencing excessive sleepiness, it’s important to mention it to your doctor. Take the time to describe your symptoms in detail which will help your doctor diagnose your condition and recommend the best treatment fit for you.