Mythbusting: 5 sleep 'facts' debunked

  1. The early bird catches the worm
    1. Despite the widespread belief that getting up early is better for you than sleeping in, there’s really no right time to begin the day - it’s different for each person. In fact, studies have been done comparing people who like to sleep late with those who get up early - when they were given a series of tasks to do in the morning there was no noticeable difference in how smart the two groups were or how well they completed the tasks, but when it came to the evening tests those who had gotten up early performed noticeably worse than the late risers. Early risers are also more likely to start flagging sooner in the day than later sleepers, which will have them reaching for unhealthy things like coffee or energy drinks to stay awake and focused. So if you like a good lie-in, you can now enjoy it without the side helping of guilt.
  2. You can catch up on missed sleep at the weekend
    1. If you miss out on sleep during the week, with a lot of early mornings or a few crazily late nights, you might think that all it takes to fix that is a slightly longer snooze at the weekend. But sadly it doesn’t really work that way. If you miss out on a full night’s sleep lots of nights in a row, something called ‘sleep debt’ will accumulate. And although one long night of sleep will help you feel refreshed for a little while, the benefits of that additional sleep generally only last about six hours after you wake up. Plus it’s just not enough to make up for the bad health effects of consistently losing sleep. You need to add 3-4 extra hours of sleep to each weekend night, as well as an extra hour each night the following week to get you back on track.
  3. Playing on your phone helps you go to sleep
    1. Often people like to watch TV, message friends, or play on an app before bed - we think those things will help us chill out before going to sleep. But they’re actually having the opposite effect! Our biological clocks are regulated in part by the amount of light we’re exposed to and - strange but true - it’s blue light specifically that regulates how much melatonin (the sleep hormone) our bodies produce. The more blue light we’re exposed to, the less melatonin our bodies make and the more alert and awake we feel. And what kind of light do most electronic devices give off? You guessed it - a blue-ish one. So when it comes to checking your phone before bed, if you want to nod off you need to switch off.
  4. Cheese gives you nightmares 
    1. This one is quite a persistent myth, despite the fact that there’s never been any scientific link between cheese and bad dreams. There’s some evidence to suggest that eating heavy meals with a high fat content (and cheese fits this bill) late at night can sometimes give you indigestion, which in turn can disturb your sleep. And disturbed sleep often involves more nightmares, or at least the memory of more nightmares, because you wake up more often so are more likely to remember them. But it doesn’t happen to everyone and it isn’t only cheese that might cause it - so this myth definitely needs to be busted and banished.
  5. Teenagers are lazy
    1. Ever feel grouchy about getting up on a weekday morning? Like to stay bundled up in your duvet until at least midday on weekends? Lots of adults just put that down to laziness, writing off all young people as moody and unmotivated when it comes to getting out of bed. But research shows that there are real biological factors at work here. When you hit puberty, your body clock changes - your circadian rhythms (the internal systems that help you regulate sleep) get delayed by 2-3 hours and it makes you want to stay up and get up later. There’s even a scientific name for it - Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. It’s also been proven that teenagers need more sleep than adults - you should be getting between 9-10 hours every night, rather than the 7-8 hours recommended for over 18s.