Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Rebecca Robbins: All right. "Many adults need five hours of sleep or less." Now, this is a myth. "Loud snoring is annoying but mostly harmless." David Rapoport: Loud snoring is actually a sign that there is a blockage in your throat. Robbins: "Your brain and body will adapt to less sleep." This is a myth. I'm Dr. Rebecca Robbins. I'm a postdoctoral research fellow at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Rapoport: And I'm Dr. David Rapoport. I'm a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and I run the research program in sleep. Robbins: And we're here today to debunk some of the most common myths about our sleep. "Watching TV in bed is a good way to relax before sleep." Now, this is not something that we would necessarily recommend. If you turn the television on and if it's close to you, that's a source of bright-blue light. So, bright light is one of the strongest cues to our circadian rhythm. It kick-starts our body and our brain to become awake and alert in the morning. It's called a zeitgeber, the strongest input to that circadian, the awake phase of our rhythm. Rapoport: "Drinking booze before bed will improve your sleep." So, this is a very commonly used tactic for people who have trouble sleeping, and they have a drink. It's a drug. It's very much like a sleeping pill. And it is true that it will help you get to sleep, as long as you don't drink too much. One or two drinks, perhaps. What you do, however, is it disrupts the normal sleep. It suppresses REM sleep, which is a normal part of your sleep that comes on a little while after you go to sleep, typically 30 to 60 minutes later. And then, when it comes that the alcohol has gotten out of your system, then the REM comes back perhaps at the wrong time, perhaps too strong, and it disrupts things. And so basically it is not generally recommended that alcohol be used as a sleeping pill. "Lying in bed with your eyes closed is almost as good as sleeping." I think that one's pretty definitely not correct. Sleep is a very specific process that your body goes through. The most common myth, if you will, that we got rid of in the scientific field 50 years ago is that sleep was like, you know, taking your car and putting it in the garage and turning off the key and leaving it there, and then you come back the next morning and it just is parked. Sleep is not like that at all. Sleep is a very active process. When you go to sleep, you enter one stage. A little while later, you enter another stage. It gets progressively deeper. You then have the REM sleep, and then you wake up momentarily, and that whole cycle takes an hour to an hour and a half, and then it starts again, and it happens three to five times in a night. And if you disrupt any of that, something happens, and the next morning you feel it. You don't feel rested. Now, we don't understand how that actually happens or why that happens, but we do know it does happen. So when you're lying in bed, none of that is happening. If your eyes are closed and you're not asleep, it just doesn't count. Robbins: Next. Rapoport: "If you can't sleep, you should stay in bed and try to fall back asleep." If you don't fall asleep, we generally recommend that you not stretch it out and stress yourself out by just trying. And there's probably nothing that can prevent sleep as well as, "I've gotta go to sleep." [Robbins laughs] "I've gotta go to sleep." "I've gotta go to sleep." Robbins: "I need to!" Rapoport: You can feel your pulse and your blood pressure going up. So what we try and do when we work with somebody who has this problem with insomnia is exactly the opposite of that. We try and tell them, relax, don't worry about it. Stay in bed for a little while and see what happens. But don't try to go to sleep, just relax. And if you can't relax and if you don't go to sleep, it's probably better to get up so that you don't associate the bed with a stressful situation. Robbins: All right. "Many adults need five hours of sleep or less." Now, this is a myth. We have scores of epidemiological data and data from the sleep lab to show that five hours is not enough for the vast majority of adults. There may be some individuals that maybe do OK on six hours, but much less than that really is a myth. Now, you might hear people brag about this, saying, "Oh I get five, I'm just fine." But by and large, we do see those people likely making up for lost sleep on the weekends or in power naps, for instance. So, for the vast majority of us, the recommendation really is seven to eight hours. Rapoport: This is a real problem that the sleep field has been trying to address, and that is that not sleeping has been perceived as a macho thing. It proves how great you are, it proves how manly you are in some cases. Sleeping is actually good, and you should sort of be proud of the fact that you sleep to your need. Robbins: "Your brain and body will adapt to less sleep." Rapoport: That sounds like yours. Robbins: No. This is a myth. We see that, just like good nutrition or a great, healthy diet is so important, we similarly have a diet that we need our brains and our bodies to be at their best. Rapoport: There are actual, formal studies that have tested how people perform with lack of sleep and how they think they are performing. And it turns out that we basically are really lousy at saying how sleepy we are. So you know you feel bad when you haven't had enough sleep, but you have no idea how bad you are, and your performance keeps deteriorating the more you don't sleep or restrict your sleep over multiple days, and you think, "Oh, I've settled in. I have a little headache, and it doesn't really bother me. I'm doing just great." And what is actually happening is you're performing less and less well on the various things that we can test, including driving simulators. You're falling asleep for three or four seconds continuously, without knowing it. Robbins: All right. "It doesn't matter what time of day you sleep." Rapoport: If you look at our biology, we have, inside our brain, a clock. That clock is set to say, "This is a good time to sleep." And then at another time it says, "This is a good time to be out." Sleep is timed. It doesn't just happen. And even if you don't sleep for the whole night, you'll be more and more sleepy all night long. But in the morning, you'll get a second wind, and that's because the clock says, "Up, time to be up."