America has a sleep problem: Thirty-five percent of adults in the United States aren't getting the recommended seven hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Sleep deprivation can lead to a host of health issues, including diabetes, obesity, depression and cardiovascular disease. How people tackle our sleep deficit can make the difference between a well-rested population and zombie land.
To make healthy sleep a reality, toss aside these seven sleep myths.
- Myth: A nightcap before bed will make you sleep better. Alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythm, the body's sleep/wake cycle. It takes your body one hour to metabolize one alcoholic drink. If you drink prior to bedtime, you may rebound—or awaken—in an hour. This is known as the "rebound effect," according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The more you drink, the worse your sleep disruption. Depending on how much you drink, allow enough time for your body to metabolize the alcohol before you go to sleep.
- Myth: Skip late night workouts. Overall, research shows daily exercise and physical activity improves sleep quality and duration. Contrary to popular belief, you can work out in the evening or later without it disrupting your sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). NSF's poll on exercise and sleep found people who exercised within the last four hours before bed slept as well as those who exercised earlier. One small study of healthy young adults also found those who engaged in high intensity exercise an hour-and-a-half before bed reported better sleep outcomes. However, if you suffer from insomnia, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine still recommends you don't exercise within two hours of going to bed.
- Myth: Eat a large meal for better sleep. A large meal can disrupt your sleep in many ways. If you eat right before bed, your body won't have enough time to digest the meal. Lying down after a big meal can worsen heartburn, keeping you from falling or staying asleep. Or you could eat the wrong thing, like that tempting slice of chocolate cake that's loaded with caffeine, another no-no for a good night's sleep.
- Myth: The older you are the less sleep you need. You might get shorter as you get older, but you shouldn't shorten your sleep. The CDC's sleep guidelines by agerecommends adults age 18 to 60 get seven or more hours of sleep each night; those 61 to 64 should get seven to nine hours; and those 65 and older should get seven to eight hours.
- Myth: Snoring isn't a big deal. Sounding like a freight train while you sleep is more than just noisy. You can have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where the tongue falls back into the throat and blocks the airway. Feeling fatigued during the day despite getting a full night's sleep is a telltale sign of OSA, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. Having OSA also puts you at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Your health care provider can run tests to determine whether you have OSA. In most cases, a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) can help you breathe better while you sleep.
- Myth: Stay in bed if you can't sleep. Tossing and turning won't help you fall asleep. Give yourself 20 minutes and then get up and do something relaxing, recommends Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine. Read a printed book or listen to soothing music before trying to fall asleep a little bit later.
- Myth: It's ok to watch TV in bed. Today's TVs contain LED lighting. These and other electronic devices emit a short wavelength blue light that interferes with your body's melatonin levels, the hormone responsible for signaling sleep. To safeguard your rest, avoid electronic usage two hours before bedtime, suggests NSF. Changing the light settings or installing a blue light filter app can allow you to use your electronic devices without ruining your sleep.
"Sleep is an important part of one's overall health and well-being," says Angela Patterson, Chief Nurse Practitioner Officer, CVS MinuteClinic. "Getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night provides a number of health benefits, including a healthier heart and reduced stress. At MinuteClinic, our highly trained providers are here to help people achieve their best sleep health."
Find out where your local MinuteClinic is located.