Home / Sleep Myths vs. Sleep Facts

Sleep Myths vs. Sleep Facts

Sleep Myth: We all need 8 hours of sleep.

Sleep Fact: It turns out that 8 hours is just an average. Although some people might find that 8 hours of sleep at night suits them, we’re all individuals and have different sleep needs. Some people may need closer to 7 hours of sleep while others may need closer to 9. A good way to figure out your sleep need is to pay attention to the amount of sleep that you need to function at your best.  

Sleep Myth: An hour before midnight is worth two after midnight? 

Sleep Fact: ‘Midnight’ is quite an arbitrary concept from a natural world standpoint and it’s usually unhelpful to think about the night in terms of the face of a clock. The natural ‘sleep phase’ (the time at which sleep naturally occurs) is going to vary greatly from person to person. Have you ever heard of a person being a night owl or a morning lark? These preferences are the result of differences in the natural sleep phase. 

What this sleep myth might be alluding to is that most of our deep sleep happens in the first third of our nightly sleep period. During sleep, we pass through four different sleep stages, including deep sleep. While deep sleep is the most restorative sleep stage, all sleep stages play a vital role in keeping us healthy and functioning at our best. 

In other words, all sleep is important. 

Sleep Myth: Good sleep means not waking at all throughout the night

Sleep Fact: Waking up during the night is completely normal and to be expected. During sleep we cycle through different sleep stages, moving from lighter sleep stages to deep sleep. This cycle doesn’t happen just once. It happens repeatedly over the night, with each sleep cycle lasting around 90 minutes. At the end of these sleep cycles, many people will experience a short period of waking where they might shuffle around in bed or flip the pillow over onto the cooler side before going back to sleep. Some people don’t even remember these brief awakenings. Waking in this way is entirely normal and is part of the general structure of normal sleep. Waking up at night only becomes problematic if they last for a long period of time and/or if they cause significant problems the following day.

Sleep Myth: Waking in the morning and still feeling dozy is a sign of a poor night’s sleep

Sleep Fact: Very few of us probably wake up in the morning and immediately spring out of bed ready for the day. In fact, it’s much more likely that we wake and take a few minutes to ‘come round’ from sleep. Although residual sleepiness can be a sign of not enough sleep, that initial urge to return to sleep upon awakening doesn’t necessarily mean you have not had a good night’s sleep. In fact, this experience, which is known as ‘sleep inertia’, is your body and brain taking a moment to wake up completely from sleep. Just as it takes a little while to wind down and drift off to sleep, it also takes a little time to come back to full wakefulness in the morning too.    

Sleep Myth: Insomnia is biological and needs a biological treatment

Sleep Fact: While there are physiological elements of someone’s sleep problem that are important to acknowledge, the way a person thinks, feels and behaves in relation to the sleep problem are central to maintaining insomnia. Put simply, insomnia typically begins with a stressful life event. This might include work-related stress, a family bereavement or a brief period of being unwell. For the majority of people, sleep will generally return to normal when the stressful event passes. However, for some people, the poor sleep itself becomes the focus of anxiety, which can keep things stuck. Sleep-related anxiety and behavior changes to compensate for sleep loss (e.g., taking a nap, getting into bed early, sleeping in on the weekend) perpetuates the sleep problem and maintains the insomnia. 

Sleeping medications can sometimes be helpful for people with an acute sleep problem (meaning of acute sleep problem), but medications don’t tackle the root of the sleep disorder — the unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that are maintaining the sleep problem. That’s why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is so effective and is the recommended treatment. It helps people address these core areas. 

Sleep Myth: You should try to catch up on all the sleep you’ve missed Sleep Fact: We do not need to repay lost sleep on an hour-for-hour basis. The best evidence we have from studies of sleep deprivation (when people are kept awake for long periods) suggests that we need to make up less than a third of our lost hours. Furthermore, the sleep we get on recovery nights may be deeper and more restorative. It is also important to note that when we start to chase sleep because we are worried about catching up, we can get stuck in unhelpful cycles of anxiety and daily changes in sleep phase (the time we fall asleep and wake up) that can keep sleep problems going. Establishing a reasonable and consistent rise time each day is a good way to avoid this and this forms part of behavioural approaches to insomnia, such as stimulus control and sleep restriction therapy.