Following myths about sleep could be damaging your health and shortening your life

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woman struggling to sleep

People could be damaging their health and even shortening their lives if they believe in some widely held myths about sleep.

Academics at New York University looked at some of the most common advice about sleep available on the internet.

They realised many of the advice out there is not true and could actually do far more harm than good to those who follow it.

The team have now published a list of myths that many people believe – and how your health can improve if you stop following them.

The most famous myth is the belief that humans can cope on less than fewer than five hours sleep per day.

While you can continue to function on such a small amount of sleep, it can increase the risk of serious issues such as heart attacks and strokes – and it reduces life expectancy.

Researcher Dr Rebecca Robbins said: “We have extensive evidence to show sleeping five hours or less consistently, increases your risk greatly for adverse health consequences.”

People should aim to sleep for between seven and eight hours per night.

Another myth is that having an alcoholic drink before you turn in can help you get a better night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, doing so will mean that the quality of sleep is depleted, and the benefits could be lost.

It disrupts the REM cycle which is important for learning and could have a negative effect on your memory.

Dr Robbins said: “It may help you fall asleep, but it dramatically reduces the quality of your rest that night.”

Some people like to watch TV in bed to help them wind down for a better night’s sleep.

However, TVs, tablets and smartphones also emit a blue light which interferes with production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Dr Robbins adds that watching a screen and could end up keeping you awake rather than getting you to sleep.

She said: “Often if we’re watching the television it’s the nightly news… it’s something that’s going to cause you insomnia or stress right before bed when we’re trying to power down and relax.”

When people trouble to sleep they often believe they should stay in bed until they drift off – but Dr Robbins has another suggestion.

She said: “We start to associate our bed with insomnia. It does take the healthy sleeper about 15 minutes to fall asleep, but much longer than that… make sure to get out of bed, change the environment and do something that’s mindless.”

She also says that we should get up when our alarms go off and resit hitting the snooze button.

She said: “Realise you will be a bit groggy – all of us are – but resist the temptation to snooze.

“Your body will go back to sleep, but it will be very light, low-quality sleep.”

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