Insomnia can wreak havoc on a person’s quality of life. Sleep problems are associated with memory loss, weight gain, and depression. But what do we really know about insomnia? And which prevalent myths should we simply stop believing? We share three of the biggest misconceptions surrounding this common and profoundly life-altering condition.
Myth: Insomnia is not common
Insomnia is very common and one of the most prevalent sleep problems. The circadian system is the body’s mechanism for keeping the body on a 24-hour clock, and ensuring that it gets enough sleep to function. While problems in the circadian system can be the cause of and contribute to sleep problems, insomnia is usually caused by many other factors— medical, psychiatric, medications, and unhealthy sleep habits.
Insomnia is reinforced by behavior and unhealthy sleep habits. For those with chronic insomnia, most experts recommend a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Paradoxically, staying in bed trying to sleep for a long time may actually propagate insomnia.
Myth: Melatonin helps most people with insomnia.
Each night, the circadian system releases melatonin, a chemical that signals the brain and the body to sleep. Although it is naturally occurring in the human body, melatonin is also a popular sleep aid. It just is not very good in most cases of clinical insomnia. Melatonin may help those with circadian rhythm problems, such as poor sleep related to jet lag or use of electronic devices at night. But because most cases of insomnia are not related to circadian timing problem, melatonin won’t do much for most insomniacs.
Myth: Light at night does not disrupt sleep.
There are some worrying connections between smartphone use at night and sleep, because the blue light emitted from electronic devices such as TV, phone, and computer screens may disrupt the circadian system. Because blue light emitted from electronic devices can suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin, habitual smartphone use near bedtime may cause sleep problems. In addition, it is also a good habit to wind down before bed time. Most of us have had the experience of having a deadline where you’re working all the way until 10 p.m. and then finally you go to bed at 11 p.m. and you’re like, “I can’t sleep!” It is because you’re still wired. You need some time to slow down your brain.
What, then, can help you sleep? Researchers looking into this question recommend a few simple rules you can follow to keep better sleep hygiene:
Wind down before going to bed.
Sleep as much as you need to feel refreshed and healthy but not more.
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time daily.
Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid.
Keep your bedroom as dark as possible.
These are just a few behavioral changes you can make to get a better night’s sleep; why not start tonight?
This piece is part of a special brain health initiative curated by Dr. Ali Rezai of The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. For more, visit The Huffington Post’s Brain Health page.