NPR LIFE KIT – Does it matter what time you go to bed? Sleep scientist Rebecca Robbins identifies commonly held beliefs about sleep — and debunks misconceptions.
Sleep has a huge impact on our health. It helps our brains function, protects against heart disease and supports our immune system. And without it we would die.
Although for something so important, we aren’t formally taught how to do it right, says Rebecca Robbins, a sleep scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “In America, you learn about nutrition or sex ed in school, but never about sleep.”
It may be why only a third of Americans get the recommended amount of sleep each night, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To help educate the public about healthy sleep, she and her colleagues identified popular myths about sleep and debunked them in a 2019 paper published in the journal Sleep Health.
They looked at statements such as “many adults need only 5 or less hours of sleep” and “it does not matter what time of day you sleep.” And they found that these claims had “a limited or questionable evidence base.”
Robbins walks through some of these myths with Life Kit — and shares some much-needed tips on how to get better sleep.
MYTH 1: It doesn’t matter what time of day you sleep
“Unfortunately, the time of day does matter,” says Robbin. Our circadian rhythm — the internal circuitry that guides the secretion of the essential sleep hormone melatonin — is “significantly influenced by natural sunlight in our environment.”
When the sun comes up and we go outside, that sunshine “stops the floodgates of melatonin and switches the ‘on’ phase of our circadian rhythm,” she says.
“Conversely, going into a dark environment is what allows for the secretion of melatonin,” she adds.
Because of the importance of light, individuals who commonly work on overnight schedules or outside the typical 9 to 5 p.m. window can experience health issues …