Despite being the third pillar of health -- along with nutrition and exercise -- sleep is still too often maligned as a weakness. Too many of us still operate as if we will sleep when we're dead or participate in sleep deprivation one-upmanship.
But the experts in the realm of sleep know that perpetuating such negative attitudes toward rest and recovery is only hurting ourselves. That's why we asked the pros to help clear up some of the confusion. Here are seven of the things they'd like to hear no longer.
"One big misconception is that your body will eventually just adjust to less sleep over time without significantly affecting your ability to function. In the laboratory, we see that after a few days people tend to perceive that they are physically adjusting to decreased sleep time, but when we take measurements of biological and cognitive functioning, we see clear deficits that often just get worse and worse over time. The more impaired we are, the less able we are to tell how impaired we are."
--Michael A. Grandner, Ph.D., instructor of psychiatry at the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania
"One thing that frustrates me about common attitudes toward sleep is viewing it as a strictly functional process and losing sight of the fact that it is also a joyous experience. Sleep, of course, functions most effectively to support our health, emotional well-being, memory formation, performance and even appearance. But in addition to being functional, sleep is an exquisite personal experience. Understanding this will improve our motivation to obtain the sleep we need. I think it's important to acknowledge our love of sleep before getting into bed with it."
--Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., clinical psychologist specializing in integrative sleep and dream medicine at the University of Arizona and HuffPost blogger
"Everyone knows people who eat junk food [and] don't exercise but stay thin, right? It's like that for sleep habits, too! Some people do everything 'wrong' (they watch TV in bed, drink a coffee at dinner) and sleep just fine. So I say, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. For those with insomnia, it's often a good idea to see if changing these things can help, but just changing lifestyle [factors] like caffeine, TV in bed, alcohol, etc. is unlikely to improve sleep all by itself."
--Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., MPH, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
"I think one of the big things is that a turkey sandwich ... may make you sleepy because [it has] tryptophan in it. I think I calculated it, and you would need to eat about 46 pounds of turkey
to get enough tryptophan to actually [make you sleepy], and tryptophan does not work well in the presence of protein."
--Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., HuffPost blogger and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep
"Another big misconception is that if you have trouble sleeping the best thing to do is stay in bed as much as possible, so that you maximize your chances of getting the most sleep possible. Actually, this is a recipe for developing long-term insomnia, since when you spend a lot of time awake in bed, it 'programs your brain' to wake up in bed, not sleep. Getting out of bed when you can't sleep is the best long-term strategy."
"In fact, most of us have up to eight or 10 brief awakenings per hour. We don't remember most of those. But it [can be] normal even to wake up, use the bathroom and take 20 to 30 minutes to return to sleep. Of course, if it's a longer amount, then this may be insomnia. But everyone wakes up at night at least a few times!"
"Actually, one in 10 U.S. adults probably meets criteria for a diagnosis of an insomnia disorder (more than just a complaint -- this is usually long-lasting and can lead to physical and mental illness). Also, about 85 percent of adults who have sleep apnea (a sleep-related breathing disorder) have no idea that they have it. It's a disorder that's tightly linked to obesity and heart disease, often (but not always) presents with loud snoring, and often (but not always) presents with extreme daytime tiredness, especially in the morning."