Sleep is a highly emotive subject and one that it seems everyone has an opinion on.

Whether you sleep like a baby or have chronic insomnia, there will be someone that will project an opinion to you that they heard from somewhere or other and now they believe it to be true because they’ve used their own unconscious bias to prove it. Not the most scientific of studies but, like so many things in life, it becomes more common and so more believable.

Here are 7 common sleep myths that I have had to help clients debunk.

1. I can catch up on my sleep

You’ve been having late nights all week so you’ll take the weekend to have a few early nights or have a lie-in right? I wish I could say that that worked but unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.

You can’t make up for a sleep deficit at the weekend. In one 24 hour cycle you need to get good quality sleep in, complete 5 cycles of deep and REM sleep, so that you can tackle the next day – your body won’t be able to reset at the weekend – sleep memory doesn’t last that long. This leads us to myth number 2 …

2. More sleep is good for you

Oversleeping can lead to serious health issues. It’s the quality of the sleep that you should concentrate on more than the quantity.

Your 5 cycles of deep and REM sleep should take about 8 hours and then you should naturally wake up. If you are oversleeping then it is likely you’re doing too much REM which is exhausting, keeping you asleep yes, but you’re not getting enough deep sleep and so you wake up exhausted.

Oversleeping can also be a sign of depression – that ‘freeze’ mode where you just don’t want to come out of the cave.

It can also be linked to diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.

3. Naps affect my sleep at night

Not if you get your nap right.

You need to get the timing of your nap right so that you get the most out of your nap and it can actually help you sleep at night. Get the body and mind used to relaxation and you’ll find that you can fall asleep quicker at night.

4. I can manage on 4-6 hours sleep

The keyword here is ‘manage.’ Yes, you may be able to function but long-term this is not healthy. You won’t be at peak performance – you’ll just manage.

Sleep is not just one thing. There are so many processes that occur during sleep and just the feeling of being alert and ready for your day is only 1 bio-marker. So although you may feel well this amount of sleep will catch up with you at some point.

Chronic lack of sleep is associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Margaret Thatcher was famously known for only having 4 hours sleep a night. Yet what isn’t well publicised is that she was seen to be constantly exhausted, was often spotted nodding off and, spent the last 12 years of her life suffering from dementia ( literally translated as brain-failure).

5. I’ve always been a poor sleeper

Probably not! You slept a lot as a baby, and no-one taught you how.

Sleep is an essential biological response. you need to rest your body and empty the stress bucket overnight and scientists are only beginning to understand this process.

What you’ve probably done is taught yourself how to stay awake. So please, debunk this myth – you’re staying problem-focused, instead of solution-focused.

6. Eating cheese gives me nightmares

There is no scientific research that has proven this. In fact, cheese is a good night time snack as, just like milk, the calcium in it helps the body to produce melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone.)

7. Yawning lets me know I’m tired

This is not always true, we can yawn for many different reasons. We yawn if we’re bored, or even after we wake up. We often yawn if someone else does, because the mirror neurons in the brain are just copying – you may even yawn now as you’re reading about yawning!

Do not wait for a sign like yawning to tell you you need to sleep – that is not the only marker you need. You should feel ready for bed at a regular time each night due to general tiredness. This does not always show up with a yawn.

Gone are the days when sleep was considered for the lazy. We know so much about sleep now that it is an essential part of our life and I strongly believe that lack of sleep is contributing to our current mental illness epidemic.

Take sleep seriously – it’s so good for you, it’s free therapy and it definitely helps to empty the stress bucket.

Gin Lalli

Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland