Putting Sleep Myths to Rest

For a country that excels at many things, Singapore hasn't quite figured out the art of sleeping. Surveys and studies done from 2014 till now have placed us near the top for the most sleep-deprived nation.

In 2016, we clocked in 7 hours and 24 minutes of sleep a night. This may seem like a reasonable amount of time, but Netherlands had a whole hour more. Our sleeping habits didn’t really improve in 2019 either. We were found to sleep past midnight, at 12.11am on average.

According to a global sleep survey, 81% of Singaporean respondents want to improve their quality of sleep. By now, many of us know having good sleep allows for improved health and a happier frame of mind. So, what’s truly keeping us from getting better sleep?

Here are some common sleep myths debunked in pursuit of better rest:

Myth 1: Have trouble falling asleep? Just stay in bed.

Staying in bed while being awake for too long can cause your brain to associate your bedroom with wakefulness. It’s also why working in bed is generally discouraged. The rule of thumb is: if you’re not asleep after 15 minutes, get out of bed, head to a different space, and do something mindless like folding laundry to calm your mind.

The rule of thumb is: if you're not asleep after 15 minutes, get out of bed, head to a different space, and do something mindless like folding laundry to calm your mind.

Some other tips suggested by experts include doing deep breathing exercises, meditating, or listening to music. You could also switch on an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) video, where people create relaxing noises like gentle tapping, whispering, or fabric scratching. For those who experience the tingly chills that ASMR brings, a study has found that watching these videos can result in reduced heart rate and increased pleasant affect.

Myth 2: An alcoholic nightcap is the secret to falling asleep.

Although alcohol works as a sleep aid, it doesn't mix well with a good night’s sleep. Drinking can reduce your quality of sleep as it blocks REM sleep, the stage of sleep that’s essential for memory formation and emotional processing. Studies have also shown that frequent nightcaps can introduce long-term problems that can throw off your circadian rhythm.

Alcohol could worsen breathing problems as well, causing obstructive sleep apnea. Your airway will be closed off when you fall asleep, as alcohol relaxes even the muscles at the back of your throat. This causes oxygen deprivation, snoring and poor sleep quality.

An alcoholic nightcap can block REM sleep, introduce long-term issues, and worsen breathing problems

Myth 3: We can do with less than five hours of sleep a night. 

It may feel all right to skimp on sleep to catch up on work, but this may actually be counterproductive. A study conducted with 10,000 people found that those with less than seven hours of sleep had reduced verbal, reasoning and cognitive capacities.  

Sleeping less than 5 hours a night greatly increases a number of health risks associated with sleep deprivation. This includes Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and even early mortality. Our bodies need 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily.

Sleeping less than 5 hours a night greatly increases a number of health risks associated with sleep deprivation

Myth 4: It’s all right to nod off while watching TV.

If you love catching up on shows before getting some shut-eye, you may have noticed that it takes longer for you to fall asleep. That’s because blue light emitted from electronic devices suppresses melatonin production and interferes with our circadian rhythm. When circadian rhythms get disrupted, studies show we could become more prone to weight gain, slower thinking, or impulsive behavior.

Myth 5: Hitting snooze can make you feel more rested for the day.

As the saying goes, “you snooze you lose” — in this case, snoozing can cause you to lose wakefulness and even reduce your quality of sleep. Repeatedly hitting snooze raises the chances of sleep inertia, the feeling of grogginess and disorientation you sometimes get in the morning. That’s because continuous 9-minute snoozes work like sleep fragmentation, causing you to feel more tired than you originally were.

Snoozing your alarm clock increases your chances of sleep inertia, and causes you to lose wakefulness

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