Sleep can be quite the mysterious subject, and what we think we know about it can often be totally wrong.
Constantly evolving studies on sleep help us debunk common sleep myths and better understand what our bodies need while we’re drifting off to dreamland.
You can’t sleep if you have a concussion
Probably one of the most common questions the Internet gets is if you sleep after a concussion. For decades, it was thought that sleeping after a head injury might result in permanent injury, cognitive loss, or even death. Concussions, however, aren’t necessarily the physical injury caused by hitting your head, but the level of cognitive function after the initial injury. Someone in a concussed state might not feel “all there” or a little out of sorts for awhile, because their brain needs to recover.
Resting after a concussion just might be the best treatment, according to experts. Giving your brain a break and allowing for time to heal and rest should have you feeling better, but there are a few things to watch before jumping into bed. If someone who hit their head is able to hold a conversation and has no other symptoms of brain injury, such as dilated pupils or trouble moving and walking, they should be good to go. When in doubt, always seek professional help before diagnosing someone with a concussion.
Sleep begets sleep
New parents are often told that their newborn will sleep better if they sleep for long periods during the day. They’re also probably told that letting their little one nap all day will keep them up all night. So, which one is it?
While we’d love to have the simple answer for every single parent—things vary from kid to kid. That being said, it makes sense that a flat-out exhausted baby might not be able to calm down enough at the end of the night to actually get to sleep. While no one can give you the perfect formula, establishing a rhythm and routine can help your baby’s internal clock regulate, and help you get the sleep you need.
Sleep just might beget sleep—it’s certainly worth a shot.
Insomniacs don’t sleep at all
Insomnia isn’t just a sleep disorder limited to when you can’t get any sleep—there are actually several different types. While missing out on sleep is certainly a reasons to talk with your doctor about insomnia, there are other symptoms you should watch out for, too. Falling asleep but struggling to stay asleep is a common problem people with insomnia have.
There are 11 different types of insomnia, all with different symptoms and causes. Some are stress-induced, while others are caused by certain medications or substances that act as stimulants.
Your brain rests while sleeping
People like to think of sleep as a big power down for your brain, but that’s pretty far from the truth. While certain areas of your brain are less active at night, other areas are just firing up and getting started. Your brain spends the night processing all of the new information you collected throughout the day and commits it to memory. Essentially, while your daytime functions go offline, the rest of your brain is backing up every new skill you learned so that it becomes more of a permanent memory, ready to be accessed again tomorrow.
Your brain also takes time to flush out toxins and refresh itself while you sleep, too. While you rest, cerebrospinal fluid increases to the brain, washing away potentially harmful toxins and ensuring that you wake up feeling ready to take on the day. One of the materials washed away with the fluid is beta amyloid, a plaque associated with Alzheimer's disease.
You can get by with just a few hours of sleep a night
It happens to the best of us—you always intend to get good sleep, but sometimes life gets in the way. The bargaining process begins, surely you can get away with just a few hours, right? It’s better than nothing?
Maybe. But probably not—scraping by on just a few hours of sleep might be just as harmful as going all night. Anything less than about 7 hours of sleep is considered to be deprivation, and anything under that starts to have a noticeable affect on most people’s cognitive function. A recent study found that participants who got less than six hours of sleep a night steadily declined throughout a two week period when they were tested for simple attention and cognitive functions.
At the end of the two week testing, they even found that the group getting six hours of sleep was struggling just as much as those who had less, putting their cognitive function levels on par with someone who was legally intoxicated.
Scraping by simply isn’t sustainable.
Warm milk and turkey make you tired
It has long been thought that a glass of warm milk before bed can help you sleep at night. The theory was similar to that of turkey making you sleepy—both foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that in its pure form will lull you into sleep. Because the foods contain other acids that compete to get to the brain, the tryptophan actually doesn’t have a significant impact on your sleep.
What might make you tired, however, is the sugar in most dairy. Processing sugar can lead to a blood sugar crash, making you feel sleepy shortly after eating a lot of it. Most of the time it's short-term and as soon as your body digests a little, you're back to feeling awake and alert.