Tired? Don't Believe the Pervasive Sleep Myths

A few of the most pervasive myths about sleeping are debunked.

Photo: Adam Voorhes

It's Friday. You're tired. And you're hoping to "catch up" on sleep this weekend, no doubt. Maybe with a nightcap or two to knock you out? Bad moves. Read on for a debunking of pervasive sleep myths.

__MYTH: One hour before midnight is worth two hours after midnight.

FACT:__ "This myth is pervasive, but sleep doesn't really work that way," says Dr. W. Christopher Winter. Your first three or four hours of shut-eye are deep sleep—the kind that recharges your batteries and prevents you from falling asleep at work; the second half of sleep is lighter, dream-filled REM sleep, which keeps you sharp and determines your mood for the day." You need equal amounts of both," Winter says.

__MYTH: A good night's sleep can cancel out a series of bad ones.

FACT:__ You can catch up, but not in one super-indulgent, 14-hour sleep-in. You need to make up the deficit by snoozing a couple of extra hours over each of the next few days, according to a study by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

__MYTH: Exercising at night will keep you up.

FACT:__ Even though you'll feel energized immediately after a session, cooling down from a cardio workout triggers your brain to release melatonin, which can help you fall asleep. Just make sure you wrap up your routine three to four hours before bed, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., the author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan.

__MYTH: A nightcap (or two) will put you to sleep.

FACT:__ Alcohol is a muscle relaxant, which slows down your heart rate. But once the booze has worked its way through your system—which takes about an hour—it jacks you back up to your normal level. "The change from a low to a normal heart rate is jarring, and your body may react by waking up," Breus says. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic, which increases the likelihood of a bathroom visit (or two) in the wee hours.

— Rotchford

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