Sleep myths: why the way we think about sleep matters

Posted by for Life

Taking to the stage at Stylist’s Restival, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explained why debunking sleep myths is so important – and tackled the idea that we all need seven or eight hours of sleep a night.

There are few human experiences so universal as that of falling asleep. No matter who you are or where you’re from, we all need sleep to function – and the amount of sleep we get is incredibly important to all of us.

However, when it comes to setting guidelines about how much sleep we should all be getting, the one size fits all approach soon finds its limit. Guidelines repeatedly stress the importance of getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night – but when scientific studies have shown that some of us have genes which mean we can function on only a few hours’ sleep, how do we know what’s right for us? 

Taking to the stage at Stylist’s Restival earlier today (19 January), Dr Nerina Ramlakhan – a sleep expert and author of The Little Book Of Sleep: The Art Of Natural Sleep – challenged the inflexibility of the seven to eight hours guideline, and stressed why the way we think about sleep really matters.

“The world that we’re living in today where we’re working hard and we’re always on the go means we really need to ideally be trying to get seven or eight hours of sleep a night to be able to cope with the demands of the next day,” she began. “But also, I actually recommend that my clients don’t get too fixated… a lot of people don’t sleep so well the night before a big event, or on Sunday nights because they think they must get a good night’s sleep.”

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan speaking about sleep myths at Stylist's Restival.
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan: “If we inflexibly believe [that we need a good night’s sleep] to be the case, that stops us sleeping.”

She continued: “If we inflexibly believe [that we need a good night’s sleep] to be the case, that stops us sleeping. And when I’ve worked with professional athletes one of the things I say to them is ‘Don’t even think about sleep tonight – you’re playing for England tomorrow, forget it.’”

“We could have three or four hours of sleep, four or five hours of sleep, which are far more nourishing than the seven or eight. It’s that depth of sleep.”

At the end of the day then, it’s clear that the way we think about sleep is just as important as all the techniques, tips and tricks we employ to get more of it. While there are things we can do to give ourselves a better chance of sleeping well, the fact of the matter is that sleeping – and the art of falling asleep – is an inexact science.

As Dr Ramlakhan stressed: “Sometimes the things we think about sleep are stopping us sleeping in the first place.”

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Images: Bronac McNeill

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