A sleep doctor has warned that common myths and long-held beliefs about sleep could be at the root of the nation’s woeful slumbering. After decades of studying sleep complaints, Silentnight’s sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan believes there is a bigger catalyst than excess caffeine or late nights when it comes to poor sleep, arguing instead in favour of growing evidence which suggests our beliefs rather than our actions could be the thing keeping us awake at night.
Dr Nerina’s findings come after research from Silentnight and the University of Leeds found that 25% of Brits get five hours sleep a night or less, and the average person loses an astounding 15 days’ worth of sleep every year.
Here Dr Nerina shares the six unhelpful beliefs that could be sabotaging your sleep:
1 “I shouldn’t wake up during the night”
Do you worry about waking up during the night, believing you should put your head on the pillow and not wake up until morning? Even if you think you slept through, chances are you woke up several times during the night without realising it. Sleep studies show that the average person wakes around 10 times during the night. The theory is that this sleep-wake cycle evolved for our survival and safety; we come into a semi-conscious state to check that all is well and then slide back into sleep. It is completely normal to wake up during the night and then go back to sleep. Don’t fixate on it being a problem.
2 “I need to know the time”
This is the single biggest disruptor of sleep, yet for so many of us it’s a habit that’s hard to break. If you wake up in the night and instantly check the time, you’re likely to start calculating how many hours you have left before morning and worrying about much sleep you’re missing out on. This is a terrible cycle to get into, as obsessively checking the time will only make you more stressed and less able to drift back off. By all means use your phone as an alarm clock, but fight the urge to check it every time you wake up during the night.
3 “I need 7 or 8 hours of sleep to function”
Do you fixate on how much sleep you are/aren’t getting? While it’s important to get enough sleep, there is far too much significance placed on the holy grail of 8 hours. Everyone’s sleep requirements are different and it’s unhelpful to focus on getting a set amount. The key is to pay attention to how you feel when you wake up. If you wake up feeling refreshed after five hours you’re probably getting enough sleep for you.
4 “I can catch up on lost sleep”
Do you go to bed late and then sleep later in the morning in an attempt to make up for lost sleep? Or sleep more at weekends and when you go on holiday? This belief that you can catch up could be seriously damaging your sleep pattern. While you can catch up to some extent, you can’t fully recover. Get into a good, regular routine if you want to really reap the healing benefits of sleep, and beat your sleep problems for good.
5 “Sleep is what happens when my eyes are closed”
How many times have you sat in a meeting with your eyes open, but glazed over, and been completely oblivious to what’s being said? Or read a book before bed and then re-read exactly the same pages the next night? This is actually an early sleep state known as a hypnagogic trance, a vital relaxation state that allows you to consolidate information, learn, and refresh your memory, enabling you to stay sharp and focused. You might not realise it, but by slipping into this trance-like state during the day you could be affecting your ability to fall asleep at night.
6 “Insomnia runs in my family or my sleep problem can’t be fixed”
You’re not alone if you believe that you are somehow carrying a “bad” gene that’s stopping you from sleeping. But no such gene exists. It might be hard to hear but you need stop wearing your sleep problems like a badge of honour and believing they’re unsolvable. Everyone can improve the way they sleep. When you start becoming more aware of your sleep, you’ll start to see how many sleep issues are probably due to bad habits that have been passed down through generations, rather than faulty genetics.