5 Common Pieces Of Sleep Advice You Should Actually Ignore

Sleep hygiene might look different from what you’ve heard. Experts share examples of sleep advice that miss the mark.
Is everything you know about sleep wrong? Experts explain what advice is legit and what you can ignore.
RealPeopleGroup via Getty Images
Is everything you know about sleep wrong? Experts explain what advice is legit and what you can ignore.

Sleep hygiene tips are all around us, and let’s be real: Many of them are ones that we (or at least I) don’t want to hear or don’t always find to be true.

I mean, advice about avoiding screens in bed? My TikTok obsession and I beg to differ. No naps? I’m not sure I can get through each day without one — and I’m still tired enough to sleep at night.

So when it comes to common sleep advice, can we just ignore some of it? In short, yes. Ahead, sleep experts share their hot takes on suggestions that don’t deserve the hype they often receive:

1. Avoiding blue light from screens will help you fall asleep.

To be fair, this one is sort of half-true.

“It is technically true that blue light emitted by smartphones, tablets, computers and other screens can interfere with the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin,” said Dan Gartenberg, a sleep health adviser to CPAP.com. “That said, this issue is more nuanced than simply avoiding screens altogether.”

The actual “problem” here isn’t the light itself.

“Multiple studies have shown that the impact of blue light has a minimal effect on sleep,” said Theresa Schnorbach, a psychologist, sleep scientist and sleep expert at the company Emma. “More concerning is how much of the activity we engage with on these devices.”

In particular, this concerns the dopamine hits and lost time caused by social media or games.

Gartenberg has seen similar studies, and also said these found that sleep health is more negatively impacted by stress than blue light exposure or screen time alone.

In fact, screen time isn’t necessarily all bad. Some “safe” and even “good” forms, according to Schnorbach, include reading an e-book or listening to a calming podcast, music or ASMR audio (which can induce an autonomous sensory meridian response in listeners).

Gartenberg agreed. “For example, reading a book on a tablet with a dimmed screen may have less of an impact than playing a stimulating video game or watching a scary movie,” he said. “Moreover, if you get plenty of sunlight during the day and have a healthy circadian rhythm, the impact of screen time may also be minimized.”

2. Naps are a definite no-no.

Not all naps are created equal. “It’s important to make sure you nap at the right time of day,” Schnorbach said.

To be specific, the “right” time for a nap is generally between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. This is typically when people feel a dip in energy, but of course that range can vary.

Additionally, Schnorbach suggested keeping each nap to 20 minutes or less (or 90 minutes if it’s during the first half of the day). That way, you are less likely to wake up disoriented and groggy. Gartenberg said this also depends on how sleep-deprived you are, suggesting 20 to 30 minutes if you don’t need much additional sleep, and 60 to 120 minutes if your sleep deprivation is more serious.

In short, napping isn’t a definite no-no, but experts do have guidelines around when it will probably be most helpful.

“Napping can be extremely beneficial for those who have otherwise healthy sleep,” Gartenberg added.

3. If you have insomnia, sleep hygiene practices are the cure.

While sleep hygiene habits — such as setting your room to a comfortable temperature and engaging in something soothing — can be beneficial for sleep, they aren’t enough to treat insomnia, according to Holly Milling, a clinical psychologist, behavioral sleep medicine specialist and director of The Sleep Practice.

“For some people, focusing on sleep hygiene strategies actually makes insomnia worse, not better,” she said.

Gartenberg also believes it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

“For example, if you find yourself doing many relaxation exercises in a row and are frustrated by not being able to relax, you may find that you have accidentally passed from a state of calm relaxation into feeling more alert than when you started,” he said. “It’s about letting go and not trying too hard.”

When it comes to insomnia, Milling recommended seeing a health professional or sleep specialist, noting that the gold standard in treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.

Some workouts are beneficial for sleep.
Svetikd via Getty Images
Some workouts are beneficial for sleep.

4. Exercise should be avoided right before bed.

Generally speaking, sleep experts encourage exercising regularly. However, you may have heard to not work out right before bed, since it increases your heart rate and releases endorphins that ramp up brain activity.

For the most part, Schnorbach disagreed with this. “Exercising in the evening can actually help to align our inner clock to our sleep schedule and give us better rest due to the drop in core body temperature post-workout, which is proven to facilitate sleep,” she said.

Furthermore, certain types of exercise calm the body and serve as a stress aid. Schnorbach mentioned yoga and tai chi as practices that incorporate controlled, slower breathing and, in turn, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping you relax and fall asleep.

5. White noise aids sleep.

Some people use white noise (or green noise or brown noise) to help them sleep or feel relaxed. (Fun fact: iPhones have a secret white noise feature!)

These “colored noises” have different frequencies. So while pink noise (which sounds like light rain) is known for helping with sleep, brown noise (which is more like a steady, faraway, stormy rain) may be the better option if you need to focus.

But “unfortunately there is no scientific evidence this promotes sleep at all,” Milling said. If noise relaxes you, she added, that’s great! It’s just not backed by evidence. Milling pointed to a large systematic review that concluded “the quality of evidence for continuous noise improving sleep was very low, which contradicts its widespread use.”

Additionally, experts in a piece for Time magazine noted that such sound isn’t actually needed for sleep and that it can become a crutch for people who come to depend on it.

With all of that said, do what works for you, regardless of what current research has or hasn’t found. Sleep hygiene is more personal than it’s made out to be sometimes, and these are just some thoughts to consider.

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