by Ross Pomeroy
A new survey suggests that at least half of Americans fall for a number of sleep myths, some of them quite damaging for sleep health.
Assistant Teaching Professor Elizabeth Pantesco and Associate Professor Irene Kan, both in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Villanova University, spearheaded the research, which was recently published to the journal Sleep Health.
The duo surveyed 1,120 adults residing in the United States via CloudResearch’s Prime Panels. Participants were queried about their demographics, then asked whether they agreed or disagreed with twenty statements about sleep, for example, “Watching television in bed is a good way to relax before sleep” and “For sleeping, it is better to have a warmer bedroom than a cooler bedroom.” Unbeknownst to them, the statements were all widely recognized as myths by sleep experts.
Ten sleep myths were believed by at least 50% of respondents. These included “Being able to fall asleep ‘anytime, anywhere’ is a sign of a healthy sleep system”, “If you can get it, more sleep is always better”, “If you have difficulty falling asleep, it is best to stay in bed and try to fall back to sleep”, and “If you are having difficulties sleeping, taking a nap in the afternoon is a good way to get adequate sleep”.
Sleep experts consider the latter two myths to be particularly pernicious. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, it’s actually best to get out of bed and engage in a relaxing or boring activity that doesn’t involve electronic screens. And afternoon naps, especially if taken frequently and over longer durations, can interfere with nighttime sleep and worsen insomnia.
Younger participants and men tended to believe in more sleep myths. Somewhat counterintuitively, higher income and education levels also were linked to belief in sleep myths.
Pantesco and Kan also found that people who had greater belief in sleep myths reported poorer sleep hygiene.
Participants endorsing more sleep myths across multiple domains were more likely to report greater variability in bedtimes and more frequent daytime napping. Those endorsing more myths also reported more frequent engagement in behaviors inconsistent with sleep hygiene guidelines, specifically: performing more in-bed activities before going to sleep, and using alcohol, snacking, doing work, or engaging in other activities in bed when having trouble sleeping. Thus, stronger belief in myths was generally linked to a less healthy behavioral sleep profile.
Sleep is vital for long-term physical and mental health, as well as everyday functioning, so rooting out sleep myths via targeted interventions could improve Americans’ health, the researchers say.
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Ross Pomeroy contributes to RealClearScience.