Happy are the souls who’ve never been up at 2 a.m. Googling “how to beat insomnia.” The rest of us have tried online tips (e.g. don’t eat before bed) to no avail. Here we debunk five of the most common myths about insomnia and its impact on your health.
Myth #1: Insomnia Is All in Your Head
It’s true that psychological issues can cause insomnia. As a matter of fact, stress is the number one cause reported by people with insomnia. But it’s not the only insomnia trigger. Many things can cause insomnia, including unseen illness, medication side effects, alcohol or drug use, chronic pain, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, too much caffeine, migraines, and poor sleep hygiene. If you really can’t sleep chronically, see a doctor.
Myth #2: If You Can’t Sleep, You Should Get Up
You may feel like you should accomplish something rather than just lie there and stare at the ceiling, but often getting up and turning on lights, watching TV — and yes, flipping through your phone for the perfect pink furry dinosaur emoji — can reset your internal clock so you have to start the sleep process all over again. In fact, the lights actually train your brain to associate your bed with wakefulness, not rest. However, if you can’t help yourself, experts say it’s more effective to read or listen to relaxing music (but save that Orange Is the New Black marathon for another day).
Myth #3: Melatonin Is the Best Answer
People love to tout melatonin as the holistic answer to insomnia. After all, it’s a naturally occurring hormone. Unfortunately, studies have shown it’s not that useful in instances of clinical insomnia and excess amounts of the supplement (which many people take) have been known to induce hypothermia, screw with menstrual cycles, and stimulate too much prolactin in the body (causing liver and kidney issues). If you take it with other sleep meds (like Trazodone or Benadryl), it can lead to excess daytime sleepiness or confusion. Melatonin does help if you have jet lag or something else that has impacted your circadian rhythm, but most cases of clinical insomnia aren’t about your circadian problems, and thus melatonin doesn’t do much for the majority of sufferers.
Myth #4: Drinking Helps You Sleep
Sadly, no. A glass of wine or shot of vodka may help you fall asleep, but alcohol actually disrupts your sleeping patterns so much that you’ll get terrible sleep or, if you’re like a lot of insomniacs, you’ll wake up four hours later unable to get back to sleep.
Myth #5: You’ll Get Used to Less Sleep
As the window of time you’re actually sleeping dies down, you’re no doubt hearing about other people who say they only need six or four or even just two hours of sleep each night. This is considered a humble-brag these days, as though lower amounts of sleep make you somehow better. You’ve also probably been told you’ll get used to it (usually by exhausted parents who have no choice but to believe that). The truth is, actually, you will not. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night. You may need less or more. But you won’t be able to train yourself to live on less sleep if your body needs more. Your body will shut down things to conserve energy, which means your ability to have a scintillating conversation will be reduced to rehashing old Friends dialogue. You’ll also put yourself at risk for health complications, auto accidents, lowered libido, and a lackluster work performance.