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Sleep myths with Dr Rebecca Robbins

The science behind the myths which may be hindering your healthy sleep routine.
Taryn Toomey on a Savoir bed

Our daily lives have changed dramatically over the last year and keeping a healthy sleep routine is more important than ever. Following the recent change in season, we welcome longer days and warmer weather. However, these changes can also disrupt our sleeping patterns and bedtime routines.

We asked Dr Rebecca Robbins, our sleep expert, to uncover the misconceptions which may be hindering our healthy sleep routines this spring.  From temperature and movement to brain activity and dreams, Dr Robbins reveals the sleep science to help you achieve a restorative night’s sleep all year round.

Sleep Expert to Savoir, Dr Rebecca Robbins

Dr Rebecca Robbins, Sleep Expert to Savoir

Sleep Myth 1: For sleeping, it is better to have a warmer bedroom than a cooler bedroom.

A cooler temperature is actually optimal for sleep. Your sleep can be disturbed and you may even wake up if the temperature of your bedroom or sleep environment is too hot and rises above 23.8°C (75°F).  Your body’s ability to regulate temperature is a big part of how it regulates sleep. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep the brain’s temperature regulating cells switch off and your temperature is impacted by your surroundings. If your bedroom is too warm and stuffy or your sleeping surface is unable to breathe and disperse moisture, you may begin to sweat and overheat at this stage. Effectively, your body temperate may start to rise and disturb your sleep.

Good air quality and a breathable sleeping surface made from natural materials can help prevent you from overheating.  Natural fibres are great for wicking away moisture. They are also breathable and allow airflow, keeping you cool during the warmer nights.

Savoir No 2

Savoir Nº2 Bed Set handcrafted from natural materials.

Sleep Myth 2: Adults sleep more as they get older.

Our need for sleep varies across our lifespan. Infants and children need in essence as much sleep as they can get. Teenagers also need as much sleep as possible. Yet, they face a number of barriers to obtaining sufficient, good quality sleep. These can range from increased academic responsibilities to school start times and social pressures. Despite these pressures and barriers, it is optimal for teenagers to get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep.

The vast majority of adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep to support their health, alertness, productivity, well-being and longevity. There are some individual differences, whereby some adults are fine on approximately 7 hours. While others do better with approximately 9 hours of sleep on a regular basis. We do have evidence that unfortunately, despite our need for sleep, older adults (age 65 and above) do struggle to obtain sufficient sleep duration. Due to a decline in their physiological drive for sleep but also chronic conditions which are more common among these groups than younger adults.

Sleep Myth 3: Being able to fall asleep “anytime, anywhere” is a sign of a healthy sleep system.

Sitting down and consuming a large meal is a sure sign of extreme hunger.  Similarly, lying down and falling asleep instantly is a sign that one is sleep deprived. Falling asleep is actually a process and it does take time. The well-rested sleeper takes on average 15 minutes to fall asleep. Therefore, falling asleep instantly can be a sign you are not getting enough quality sleep.

Quality, restorative sleep is all about routine. Our circadian rhythm is our internal body clock and sleep system. It has the ability to know when we should be tired and when we should be awake. It’s not capable of responding to sudden changes. The time we go to bed and wake-up, the timing of our meals, work, exercise and exposure to light. It all provides our circadian rhythm on when to fire the ‘alert’ phase of our rhythm and when to trigger to the ‘sleepy’ phase. From time to time, we can get into a rut with our sleep, including falling asleep instantly. If you are, you might consider paying more attention to your daily behaviours. Being mindful of the timing of your meals and exercise. Another key to sleep quality is maintaining a good sleep schedule, falling asleep at the same time and waking up as close to the same time Monday to Monday as possible.  Including the weekends.

Sleep Myth 4: A sound sleeper rarely moves at night.

Although you will commonly hear people declare they  ‘sleep like a log,’ this is actually a myth. We all move in our sleep, but we are not aware of these movements. The average sleeper will actually move between 18 and 30 times at night, in and out of various positions and postures.  Most of the movements are natural and will not cause us to wake up.

The right sleeping foundation ensures that you can easily make these movements, preventing a night of disturbed sleep.  A comfortable bed will help relieve pressure points. Offering the correct support in all the various positions. It’s also important to ensure that your bed provides enough space for easy, free movement.

Taryn Toomey

Taryn Toomey, wellness expert and founder of The Class, shot by Jaimie Baird for Savoir

Sleep Myth 5: During sleep, the brain is not active.

For many years in medicine, we had a limited understanding of sleep, but the science is now rapidly emerging to irrefutably debunk this myth that the brain is not active during sleep. To the contrary, our brains are highly active after we fall asleep. We go in and out of several sleep stages each marked by nuanced activity in the brain. In fact, some of the brain activity we see at night shows that memories or things we learned from the day are actively rehearsed, categorised and stored during sleep.

Also, research demonstrates that toxic build up in the brain, which is simply a by product of our waking hours, learning things, making decisions, meeting new people, comes to a halt at night. However, the removal on these toxins in the brain is accelerated during sleep. These two forces of lower production and higher waste removal make sleep a critical part of our brain health.

Sleep Myth 6: Remembering your dreams is a sign of a good night’s sleep.

It is a myth that some people dream while others do not dream during sleep. To the contrary, we all dream but we differ in our ability to remember our dreams. Dreaming takes place primarily during the critical REM stage of sleep, a time at night when our brains are highly active and engaged in processing memories from the prior day, solidifying them and transferring these memories to longer term storage. Interestingly, our ability to recall our dreams can be improved if we simply start a new routine of journaling our dreams or speaking about them to loved ones. One challenge is that dream research is heavily reliant on self-report, making it hard to conclusively debunk this myth. Nevertheless, the best sign of a good night’s sleep is not whether or not you dreamt, but how rested you feel in the morning.

Our partnership with Dr Rebecca Robbins explores all areas of our health, from immunity and anti-aging to performance and brain function, which can all be impacted by sleep. Read our recent article with Dr Robbins on The Importance of Quality Sleep.

Find out more about Dr Rebecca Robbins.