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Eight hours, warm milk, and snoring: Five sleep myths debunked

At some point, humans decided eight was the magic sleep number, for example.

In 2003, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found there was no scientific or chemical reason link between warm milk and sleep.

ISTOCK / iStockphoto

In 2003, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found there was no scientific or chemical reason link between warm milk and sleep.

The biggest misconception about sleep is that you need eight hours, says sleep expert Colleen Carney.

At some point, humans decided eight was the magic sleep number, says the director of Ryerson’s sleep and depression lab. But in reality, people are malleable and each person requires a different amount of rest, a number that also changes as we age.

But the misconception persists, she adds, because people often don’t educate themselves as to the realities of a good night’s rest.  

Here are five other myths you’ve been told about your sleep habits

Warm milk puts you to sleep

In 2003, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found there was no scientific or chemical reason link between warm milk and sleep. The myth persists because people have likely psychologically tricked themselves into thinking it works, and thus when drinking a glass the brain is triggered to thinking its sleepy times.

Snoring is harmless

In fact, your snoring might actually be sleep apnea – where your breathing becomes disrupted while you sleep, causing you to jolt away. Left untreated, sleep apnea not only interferes with a good night’s sleep, but can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. Kimberly Cote, former president of the Canadian Sleep Society, says while only four per cent of the population have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, the true number of sufferers is likely much higher since many people, believing snoring isn’t an issue, never seek medical advice or treatment.

Fitbits can help you get a better night’s sleep

Carney says the medical monitors used to measure sleep in labs and clinics aren’t even all that accurate and, at best, provide a general overview of the quality of a person’s sleep. But people will often turn to non-medical-grade apps and fitbits to help track their sleep patterns. This can lead to obsession over the quality of sleep they’re getting, which in turn can lead to stress and – ironically – insomnia.

Blue light is bad for sleep

Studies have shown that blue light – the short-wave light that comes from our devices - can negatively affect our sleep quality, but Carney adds a caveat: those studies were performed with very small sample sizes and very young participants. And that’s important to note because as we age, our sleep cycles become less sensitive to light. So, while you shouldn’t let children use technology before bed, adults can probably cope with it just fine, she says.

You can catch up on sleep

People believe that you can pay your sleep “debt” by catching a few extra Zs on the weekend. In reality, this only makes sleep worse, says Carney. To get the best night’s sleep, consistency is more important than length. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is more effective for getting a restful night than lying in bed till noon on a Saturday.

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