Tracy Hannigan, The Sleep Coach, writes an exclusive piece for Female First
Tracy Hannigan, The Sleep Coach, writes an exclusive piece for Female First

Did you resolve to sleep better this year? When deciding if - and how - you want to improve your sleep, it's crucial to look at the assumptions we make about sleep to avoid going down the rabbit hole of creating more problems for ourselves.

Myth 1: We all need eight hours

Fiction! We don't all need eight hours. Sleep need is genetically determined - some people need six and a half hours, some need nine. How do you know how much sleep you need?

The number of hours you need is the number that allows you to fall asleep within 15 or so minutes, to wake once or twice in the night long enough to remember it (although we wake up more frequently than that), and which leaves you feeling refreshed when your alarm goes off, ready to tackle your day. Whatever number of hours this is for you is the number of hours of sleep you need, and it will be different for every single person.

If you don't need eight hours but are constantly 'trying to get eight hours, a phenomenon is known as 'time in bed extension,' you can give yourself sleeping problems that you don't currently have!

Myth 2: Falling asleep anywhere and anytime is a sign of a great sleeper

Fiction! Many people think this potentially dangerous one is a 'good thing.'

Excessive daytime sleepiness, which causes a person to fall asleep at various times and places not usually associated with sleep (like their bed), is actually a sign of potentially serious health conditions.

Insomnia causes 'tired and wired' feelings - these people wish they could nap, and they can't! Excessive daytime sleepiness causes exactly that - sleepiness in the day that interferes with getting things done that need to get done.

If you are someone who falls asleep uncontrollably or needs to nap to make it through the day because sleepiness is a problem, you should speak to your doctor to get properly assessed. In addition to the risks of sleepiness itself (such as accidents and falls), some of the causes can have long-term health consequences.

Myth 3: Alcohol makes sleep better

Absolutely fiction. Alcohol may help you get to sleep faster because of its sedative effect, but it destroys some of the most essential parts of our sleep cycles. This can cause memory problems, inattention, and other cognitive problems. It also causes rebound insomnia.

Ever have a good night out and wake up in the night with your heart racing and unable to get back to sleep? Or, give up the booze for a while and have a week or so of sleeping trouble

This 'rebound effect' is caused by the brain 'expecting' alcohol to be there, creating a depressant effect and adjusting its neurotransmitters on that expectation (ramping up the excitatory ones to counteract the impact of our drink). When the alcohol does not suppress that 'chemical expectation', our brain becomes wired and awake, and eventually this evens out as the brain stops creating more excitatory signals. If you've resolved to do Dry January, you may find vast improvements in your sleep.

So if you've resolved (at the New Year or otherwise) to improve your sleep, be sure that you're not resolving in favour of poorer sleep by creating unhelpful habits or aiming for sleep that is actually unhealthy.  Always talk to your doctor before making big changes to your health habits, and may 2022 be your year for great sleep health!

Tracy Hannigan is one of the UK's leading sleep coaches and insomnia experts, running a sleep therapy practice for individuals with insomnia ( Tracy uses her background in psychology and her experience as a healthcare professional alongside her CBTI training to help people reclaim their sleep so they can live the active and vibrant lives they want and deserve. 

RELATED: Seven tips for a better sleep during the menopause

Tagged in