A Little Nighttime Knowledge
Can eating too close to bedtime lead to extra pounds? Does warm milk really help you fall asleep? Will you still be able to fall asleep if you exercise a few hours before hitting the hay? Here's a truth versus myth breakdown on your nightly choices.
Your sis says you shouldn't eat anything after dinner or you'll gain weight double-time, while your mom insists turkey is a surefire recipe for a good night's sleep. You thought exercise before bed guaranteed a solid snooze, but friends say that it will keep you up all night for sure—and we all know everyone needs eight solid hours every night…right? If you're baffled by bedtime hype, you're not alone. So we're going to help you debunk some sleep myths. Right now!
Exercise can help you sleep.
TRUE! But not right before bed. "Exercising four to six hours before going to bed can help you sleep," says Peter Hauri, PhD, a sleep expert and former director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, in Rochester, Minnesota. But not all exercise is created equal: Aerobic exercise has been shown to lead to faster, deeper, and more restful sleep than other kinds of exercise.
Midnight snacks will never be okay for your teeth.
MYTH! "Some foods can actually help prevent cavities, especially cheese," says Dominick DePaola, DDS, PhD, a dental educator and president and CEO of the Forsyth Institute in Boston. "Cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Swiss, and others have all been found to prevent cavities by neutralizing acid formation from cavity-causing bacteria."
Everyone needs eight hours of sleep every night.
MYTH! "Nobody has proven that we need at least eight hours of sleep every night, and I believe everyone has different needs," says Hauri. In fact, those older than 60 may need only six hours nightly to feel rested, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Best advice? "If you're sleepy during the day, try to sleep more at night, then see how you feel," says Hauri.
If I can't fall asleep, I should stay in bed and keep trying.
MYTH! "With insomnia, the harder you try to overcome it, the worse it gets," says Hauri. "It's much better to try to stay awake—read or watch TV, and try to stay awake all night. This paradoxical intention can help, and you will fall asleep faster than if you had tried to sleep."
Eating too close to bedtime leads to extra pounds.
MYTH! According to the NIH, it doesn't matter when you eat, as long as you burn off the calories you take in during the day. Extra calories lead to fat storage, which can lead to that spare-tire middle we all want to avoid. The big risk in the evening is mindless snacking while watching television. Be conscious of your food choices morning, noon, and night!
Warm milk can help you fall asleep.
TRUE! "Hunger can keep you awake, while having something in your stomach may help you sleep better. Both warm milk and turkey may help because they contain tryptophan, a substance shown to aid sleep," says Hauri. If you're having trouble sleeping, be your own sleep scientist. "Try milk or turkey before bed for a week," says Hauri. "Every morning, write down on a scale of 1 to 10 the quality of your sleep. Stop the food for a week and record again, then compare."