While you certainly don’t need to know sleep science to overcome insomnia, learning just a few important facts about the process can help ease a great deal of anxiety and increase your sleep self-confidence and control. Check your knowledge against these common myths:
Myth #1: Everyone needs eight hours of sleep.
False: Most people believe we need eight hours of sleep to function well during the day and remain healthy. The truth is that we all require different sleep amounts. Just as we have different heights, eye color, and metabolisms, we all require varying lengths of sleep. Some people may only require four hours (like Thomas Edison—a famous short sleeper) others ten and some seven.
The eight hour myth is a major anxiety source for many. “I better get eight hours or I will be a zombie tomorrow.” I experienced this worry when I had insomnia, and the anxiety it caused continually impeded my sleep. If I didn’t get eight hours (which is considered the norm) I would anticipate not feeling well the next day. And guess what? I didn’t.
This is the power of the mind over the body.
Myth #2: If you don’t sleep well, you won’t be able to function the next day.
False: This fallacy is one of the most common anxiety-causing beliefs about sleep. Personally, it was one of my biggest worries and negative sleep contributors. Let’s say that you do require eight hours, or seven, or even ten, and you get less, does that mean you will be an utter disaster the next day? No.
Numerous research studies on students, physicians, transatlantic sailors, astronauts, medical residents and others prove that if you get a minimum of five and a half hours of sleep, your daytime performance will not be significantly affected, even over many months of poor sleep. This five and a half hours is referred to as core sleep.
Your core sleep is all you need to get your required stage three sleep (or deep sleep), the most vital stage for physical recovery and daytime functioning. The good news is that even if those five and a half hours are interrupted or obtained in smaller blocks, you’ll still meet your minimum sleep. Sure, you might feel tired or irritable the next day, but you will be able to function.
Personal Insight: I learned about core sleep firsthand when I took my psychologist licensing exams. I was so worried about not sleeping well and performing at a high level that I only slept four hours (less than core sleep) the night before both exams. One exam was over four hours long staring at a computer screen. But despite minimal sleep and not feeling my best, I performed well and passed both exams!
Knowing about core sleep significantly contributed to helping me overcome insomnia. It has allowed me to stop worrying about how many hours I sleep, which decreased my anxiety and, consequently, I sleep longer and better.
So what if you do get less than five and a half hours of sleep? Your sleep system will do everything it can to make up for it the next night. If you have a poor night’s sleep, you can feel good knowing that the pressure to sleep will be even greater the next night and your body will work harder to compensate for lost sleep (especially deep sleep).
Unfortunately, poor sleep behaviors (e.g., naps, sleeping in, taking sleeping pills, and many more) that are innocently adopted to compensate for sleep loss can impede your body’s natural reaction to make up for lack of sleep and can actually make insomnia worse.