The quality of your sleep affects every other aspect of your life. A bad night’s sleep doesn’t just mean you’ll be tired the next day. You’re more likely to forget things, have trouble focusing for long periods of time, and are more prone to making bad decisions.
Because sleep is so important to our happiness and productivity, there is a lot of information out there on how to get a better night’s sleep, but there are also a lot of myths and misconceptions about sleep. Here are some common ones to look out for.
Sleep Myth No. 1: If You’re Functioning At Work, You’re Getting Sufficient Sleep
When you’re consistently not getting enough sleep, you get used to feeling tired, and your body adapts to function on that amount of sleep. But this doesn’t mean that you’re performing at your best on this amount of sleep. As psychology and marketing professor Art Markman wrote in a previous Fast Company article, “Humans are surprisingly resilient creatures; our bodies and minds are pretty good at making do with things that aren’t exactly good for us, like chronic sleep deprivation. It’s easy to see how people quickly fall into a pattern of getting too little sleep, and then conclude that that’s just their normal baseline.”
Markman went on to say that even when you don’t feel physically tired–your brain might think otherwise. If you find yourself unable to remember things or can’t seem to be nice to to your coworkers, for example, you might be running a sleep debt.
Sleep Myth No. 2: Everyone Functions Best On Eight Hours Of Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, but there is the perception out there that eight is the magic number. This was Fast Company‘s Liz Segran’s assumption when she conducted a monthlong experiment testing how sleep gadgets affected her sleep and productivity. After tracking her sleep, she found that she needed just over seven hours of uninterrupted sleep–not the eight she was originally fixated on. She discovered that the quality of her sleep mattered much more than the length.
The underlying truth is, everyone is different. There are people who need just three to four hours to stay alert, although researchers believe that this only applies to 5% of the population. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sleep. If you’re not sure how many hours of sleep you need on a daily basis, experimentation is the best way to go. Try waking up without an alarm and figure out what your natural wake-up time is. Observe how adding or subtracting one hour of sleep impacts your productivity.
Sleep Myth No. 3: You Can Binge On Sleep On The Weekends To “Catch Up”
I am guilty of spending weekends sleeping in an extra hour or two to “make up” for the sleep I didn’t get during the week. But as sleep coach and consultant Patty Tucker told Fast Company, this practice is not doing me any benefits. “The harm of bingeing on sleep on Saturday and Sunday is that it makes it hard to get a full and well-constructed night of sleep on Sunday night, which then sends us off into the workweek on the wrong foot.”
Joel Gascoigne, CEO and cofounder of social media platform Buffer, previously wrote that deviating from his weekly sleep schedule on the weekend would compromise his productivity during the week. He wrote, “If you don’t try to wake up at a similar time at the weekend, it is similar to giving yourself jet lag every weekend. By waking up at a similar time at the weekend, you don’t stretch your body, and therefore you can achieve long-term consistency with your morning routine.”
Sleep Myth No. 4: You Can Train Yourself To Be A Morning Person (Or A Night Person)
Sorry, night owls, no amount of aromatherapy or hypnosis will make you fall asleep at 9 p.m. And early birds, it doesn’t matter how much coffee you drink–you don’t do your best work at night. You’re born with one tendency or the other, so you might as well work it as best as you can, said sleep specialist Michael Breus. For the night owls that find it hard to wake up at 5 a.m., stop. You’re better off staying in bed for an extra hour of sleep, says Dr. Dani Gordon.
The bottom line is really common sense: Listen to your body, and if a sleep solution sounds too good to be true, it probably is.