Six insomnia myths you need to know

Discover what will help you to sleep - and what won't

Photo of a young woman suffering from insomnia. Blue night time effect created with blue gel over studio lighting.

If you suffer from insomnia, you'll know how frustrating it can be. Getting a good night's sleep isn't always easy, and sometimes the best advice isn't obvious. Here are six insomnia myths worth knowing...

See also: Surprising ways insomnia affects your body

See also: How to tell if you're not getting enough sleep

#1: You should stay in bed
Contrary to popular belief, lying in bed staring at the ceiling is unlikely to help you drop off. If you've been awake for more than twenty minutes and feel no closer to sleep, experts suggest getting up and doing something else. That might mean making a soothing hot drink or reading a book on the sofa – just don't watch TV or look at your phone or computer, as the blue light waves emitted by such devices can keep you awake.

Once you start to feel sleepy, go back to bed and try again. The theory is that bed should be associated with sleeping – not worrying, reading, or catching up on Facebook. If you start doing other things in bed, your brain may find it hard to switch off the next time.

#2: You can always catch up on lost sleep at the weekend
It might be tempting to have a long lie-in at the weekend, but this is unlikely to do your body any favours – and may throw your sleep pattern out for the coming week. Sleeping for a long block of time disrupts your body clock, in the same way that jet lag does, and is likely to leave you feeling groggy and even more tired. The best advice is to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day.

#3: You should always go to bed at the exact same time
Having said that, it's better to listen to your body and turn in when you feel sleepy, rather than taking yourself off to bed just because the clock says 10.30pm. When your eyes feel heavy or you can't concentrate any more, it's time to go to bed.

It may be obvious advice, but make sure that your chores for the day are done before the evening. If you start to feel sleepy – but then have to go outside to take the bin out or do the washing up, you're going to 'wake up' your brain. Ideally, you should be in your pyjamas and teeth brushed, so you can head for bed as soon as you feel sleepy.

#4: Having a nap in the afternoon is a good idea
Some people find a 20-minute power nap in the afternoon refreshing, but for others it can affect the brain's sleep drive, making it harder to drop off at night. If you like to snooze in the day, try not to sleep for more than an hour – and make sure you nap in the early afternoon. If you find you're not sleeping through at night, cut back on the forty-winks and see if it makes a difference.

#5: You can train your brain to need less sleep
We've all heard stories about people who can survive on just a few hours' sleep, but thinking you can 're-train' your brain to need less shut-eye is a mistake.

Most adults need around seven to eight hours a night, but everyone is different and some people can get by on six hours while others need nine – and it's a proven, scientific fact that teenagers need considerably more sleep than adults.

Lack of sleep can affect your reflex response and cloud your thinking and judgement abilities. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious health consequences, and has been linked to everything from increased risk of obesity and diabetes to heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

#6 Exercising before bed helps you sleep
While it's true that regular exercise helps to beat stress and anxiety – the number one cause of insomnia – working out in the evening isn't such a good idea. Intense exercise stimulates the brain, making you alert. It also raises your body temperature, which may stay elevated for as many as six hours. To be on the safe side, it's best to complete your workout at least three hours before bedtime.