14 Top Sleep Myths, Busted
Sleep is a foundational contributor to your overall health and well-being. But a lot of misconceptions exist about how to get good sleep. If you’re searching for ways to sleep better, you might be hearing lots of well-meaning — but perhaps misguided — advice. In fact, long-held habits and myths might be exactly what is sabotaging your sleep. Here are some of the most common sleep myths that might be keeping you from your nightly Zzz’s.
Myth 1: Pillows Are One-Size-Fits-All
False! A quick glance at a pile of pillows might make you think that they're pretty interchangeable — give or take the type of fill — however, pillows are not one-size-fits-all. The way you sleep can impact the alignment of your spine, so the loft of your pillow should be selected accordingly to keep you supported. Stomach sleepers tend to need a thinner pillow, since it prevents the head from tilting too far up, while side sleepers should look for a pillow with a higher height, because the pillow should fill the space that the shoulder creates between the head and the mattress. If you’re not sure which pillow is right for you, try a pillow fitting. After all, a pillow takes up 25% of the length of your bed!
Myth 2: You Need Eight Hours of Sleep Every Night
False! Believe it or not, how much sleep you need varies, not only by person, but by that person’s age. For some people the golden number is eight, but for other that number might be seven, nine or even 10. “You might need more or you might need less,” Says Jade Wu, Ph.D., behavioral sleep medicine specialist and Sleep Advisor to Mattress Firm. “So many different factors go into it.”
Everyone has their own unique sleep needs. So rather than go by quantity alone, pay attention to the regularity of when you go to sleep. “Instead of hanging on to the eight hours idea, just get up at about the same time every day and listen to your body for sleepy cues in the evening,” Wu advises. Maintaining a consistent sleep and wake schedule may make more of a long-term impact on your health and well-being than simply the quantity of sleep you’re getting.
Myth 3: Weighted Blankets Don’t Help You Fall Asleep
False! It may seem like weighted blankets are just another gimmick in a long line of trends tried by people desperate for better rest. But there is real science behind how weighted blankets work. A 2015 study of participants with insomnia found that they tossed and turned less under weighted blankets, resulting in a calmer night’s sleep.
Wu tells us that while “the jury is still out about whether weighted blankets help everybody sleep, we do have evidence that they help people with ADHD, autism and anxiety.” A 2021 study found that children with ADHD and autism fell asleep and stayed asleep easier with a weighted blanket. The weight from weighted blankets helps slow down the body, causing the body to wind down enough to go to sleep.
Myth 4: Sleeping Like a Baby Is a Bad Thing
Both true and false! The expression "sleeping like a baby" is meant to describe restful sleep, but in reality, babies are very active when they sleep. They wake up, make noises, cry for comfort and may even need to eat a meal, all of which are developmentally appropriate and natural for babies. Suffice to say, babies are known for not sleeping through the night — especially when they’re too young to connect sleep cycles. One way babies sleep better than adults can be found in their ability to fall asleep in light, noisy settings, and often sleep through noises and environmental changes. Over the course of a human life, our sleep changes according to our current needs, and there is no one single way to achieve healthy sleep.
Myth 5: A Firm Mattress Provides the Best Support for Everyone
False! Firmness and mattress support aren’t the same thing. Firmness refers to how hard or soft a mattress feels, while support refers to whether the mattress supports your optimal spinal alignment while you rest. Just because a mattress is firm doesn’t mean it will automatically meet your sleep needs, and the right supportive mattress for you may not be firm. “Depending on your unique body and sleep environment, you may need something softer or cooler — something that provides support in different ways,” Wu says. To find the best mattress for you, try out Mattress Firm’s MattressMatcher tool.
Myth 6: Being Able to Sleep on Command Is Something to Brag About
False! While falling asleep at will may be a cool party trick, it is also something to bring up with your doctor. While others (especially the sleep deprived) may look on in envy, falling asleep on command — meaning with no latency — is actually a sign of being sleep deprived or even having narcoleptic tendencies.
Myth 7: There’s No Difference Between Each ‘Color’ of Noise
False! Did you know sound has its own rainbow? White, pink, green, gray and brown noise all have different frequencies. For example, pink is meant to reduce the difference between the background hum and the loud, jarring noises that jolt you out of sleep, whereas brown noise is a lower frequency (similar to the brain’s natural resting state) and is supposed to help you relax. White noise is loud, but that’s because it’s meant to give you something to focus on and drown out any other competing noise, making it popular with parents of babies. Luckily, sound machines typically carry most noise “colors.”
Myth 8: Drinking Tart Cherry Juice Before Bed Enables Better Sleep
True and false! Tart cherries do contain anti-inflammatory properties as well as melatonin and tryptophan, which are hormones that can help you get better sleep. However, this isn’t a miracle cure, and it won’t work for everyone. There are many factors that play into whether tart cherry juice will work for you or not, like pre-existing medical conditions, bedroom environment and genetics.
Myth 9: The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique Works
True, perhaps! Much like other myths on this list, this one will vary from person to person. The crux of the 4-7-8 technique is inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for seven counts and then exhaling for eight counts. This is supposed to relax the body enough to fall asleep quickly. Unfortunately, for some, this breathing method can cause even more anxiety. A good rule of thumb when trying breathing techniques is to just forget about the numbers, and instead choose to focus on breathing naturally.
Myth 10: Mouth Taping Is a Safe Way to Encourage Better Sleep
False! Most sleep experts and health professionals actually warn against the use of mouth tape. Why? People often use it to resolve a symptom, instead of fixing the underlying problem behind the symptom. People mistakenly assume that snoring is the problem, so they tape their mouths to keep themselves from doing it rather than work with a medical professional to treat causes like obstructive sleep apnea. But really, the problem is that we often snore at night because our brains are trying to get more oxygen, so tape could inhibit oxygen intake, waking you up. It can also lead to skin irritation.
Myth 11: Cloud Beds Are Both Instagrammable and Beneficial for Sleep
False! Unfortunately, for all their aesthetically pleasing glory, cloud beds aren’t worth giving up a good night’s sleep for. For those who don’t know, cloud beds are cocoon-like beds that resemble giant pet beds. They are very plush and pliant, meaning they aren’t great for those with mobility issues and back or knee pain. Sleeping on a soft bed can lead to unnecessary back pain, which could be easily fixed with a more stable foundation.
Myth 12: Diffusers Don’t Benefit Sleep
False! Different scents evoke different things. There are different types of diffusers and scents that are compatible with sleep and can actually help with winding down before bed. Scents like lavender and jasmine have been shown to be as effective as medications for managing anxiety — a huge sleep blocker. If the scent is used correctly, people can associate the unique smell of their diffuser with bedtime, which provides cues to the brain that it’s time for sleep.
Myth 13: Dreams Are Only Dreams; They’re Totally Random
False! Of course, dreams are not just dreams! While some people can control their dreams through a practice called lucid dreaming, most of us dream regularly, with our brains processing memories and emotions through them. Often, dreams can help us piece together random life moments to help make sense of what's happened and our resulting feelings.
Myth 14: Eye Masks Are a Luxury, and Not Necessary for Great Sleep
False! The smallest amount of light can greatly disrupt rest, so sleeping with an eye mask has been shown to help sustain a restful night of sleep. A new study also shows that eye masks can increase deep sleep, improving memory and alertness.