No matter how much you want to prioritize sleep, there will be times you feel like you have no control over it, especially as you toss and turn in the wee hours of the morning. Being armed with the right information about sleep is a crucial tool in your fight to catch more z’s, but this information can be hard to come by.
Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., an instructor at Harvard Medical School and sleep scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, stopped by TODAY on March 13 to kick off Sleep Awareness Week by sharing some of the most common myths she hears that prevent people from getting quality rest.
Myth: Sleeping an extra hour is enough to help your body adjust to daylight saving time
Many people aren’t able to sleep in for an hour when it’s time to spring forward because they have young children or pets. But for those who can, you still might find yourself feeling groggy that day and for a few that follow, Robbins said on TODAY.
“Our sleep is governed in part by our internal biological clock, or circadian rhythm,” she explained. “That system doesn’t change on a dime, so that one hour makes a big difference.”
She added that data shows that people are more likely to “cyberloaf” at work this week, meaning they’re surfing online and overall less focused and productive.
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Before the time change, experts recommend moving your bedtime up by 15 minutes for a few days to help your body clock adjust, but since we’re already in daylight saving time, Robbins advised getting outside as a way to feel more awake in the mornings.
“Natural sunlight is one of the best ways to help us get energy and power through the day,” she said.
If you’re struggling with lost sleep, a good nap can do the trick, Robbins also suggested. But how long is too long to nap? No more than 40 minutes, Dr. Carol Ash, a sleep expert at RWJ Barnabas Health in New York, previously told TODAY.
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Myth: Turning your phone brightness down can help you get better sleep
A recent survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 80% of respondents said they’ve lost sleep due to scrolling social media.
For those of us who need to watch or read something on our phones or tablets to help us drift off, Robbins has some good and bad news: Turning down the brightness doesn’t prevent your device from emitting blue light; however, there are certain settings that could make staring at a screen before bed a little less harmful.
“(Blue light) sends a strong cue to our internal rhythm that we’re trying to become awake exactly when we’re trying to power down close to bedtime,” Robbins said. “If you just move the brightness down, it’s just lowering the amount of blue light, so what you want to do is look into night shift mode or sleep mode, depending on what type of phone you have.”
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She said phone settings that have warmer colors, like reds and yellows, are the best option because they avoid the blue light.
Myth: Alcohol helps you sleep better
Yes, alcohol does put you to sleep because it’s a sedative, said Robbins, adding that one glass before bed is probably not too much of a problem. But, “much more than that … it will ruin the quality of your sleep. It causes you to wake up multiple times and suppress some of the most important stages of sleep,” she explained.
Dr. Craig Canapari, a pulmonologist and director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, previously told TODAY.com that he only drinks alcohol one to two nights per week because of the ways he’s felt it negatively impact his sleep.
“If you’re struggling with sleep and you’re feeling tired during the day, try limiting your alcohol consumption,” he suggested.
Myth: Falling asleep fast means you’re getting good quality sleep
Someone who regularly gets high quality sleep usually needs about 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep, according to Robbins. She added that falling asleep is “really part of the process, and you want to set yourself up for success during relaxing things before bedtime.”
Some evening activities that can help you wind down include reading a book or chatting with your roommate or partner, Canapari said. It’s also important to have a bedtime routine that signals to your body that you’re no longer trying to get anything done that day and it’s time to transition to rest. It’s best to do this routine at the same time during the week and the weekend. And of course, ditching caffeine after a certain time in the day helps, too.