Sleep expert debunks nine top myths including cheese giving you nightmares and alcohol before bed

You may have desperately resorted to counting sheep in hope of stopping yourself tossing and turning. Or, while snuggled under the duvet trying to unwind, you might have switched on the TV, believing it would relax you and allow you to drift off peacefully.

But these hacks are merely myths and won’t help you fall asleep, according to one prominent expert.

And sleep guru Dr Lindsay Browning, of the British Psychological Society, has said they are not the only lies we’ve been told for decades…

Getting too much sleep can be bad for your health and wellbeing

Getting too much sleep can be bad for your health and wellbeing

Counting sheep will help you fall asleep faster

Parents often rely on telling their little ones to count sheep when they’re having a hard time settling down for the night.

While it may do trick for your two-year-old by distracting them, it probably isn’t the miracle remedy for adults, according to Dr Browning, who is working with retailer And So To Bed.

There’s no harm in counting sheep, she insists, but you will have a much easier time if you set yourself something more taxing.

Dr Browning said: ‘Some better distraction techniques would be listing your top 10 favourite movies, or counting backwards in 7s from 1000.’

Cheese before bed will give you nightmares

It’s perhaps everyone’s favourite snack.

But, for years, we’ve been out off eating cheese before bed over warnings that it will cause nightmares.

In fact, it ‘may help your sleep’, according to Dr Browning.

She said that cheese contains tryptophan which our bodies use to make melatonin — our sleep hormone.

However, she claimed studies show that going to bed on a full stomach can result in longer periods of REM sleep, the stage where vivid dreams (and nightmares) can occur.

Yet ‘this would occur with any food, not just cheese’, Dr Browning said.

Consuming alcohol before bed will help you sleep better

Nightcaps aren’t the miracle sleep-inducing remedy, either.

That is according to Dr Browning, who said that, although booze can make us feel sleepy, is can actually disrupt our natural REM cycle.

She said: ‘As such, our bodies will wake us up throughout the night and make it more difficult to fall back to sleep.

‘This means that although you may fall asleep more quickly after alcohol, the quality of your sleep will be poorer.

‘To prevent insomnia, it’s of benefit to stop drinking alcohol at least four hours before going to bed so that the alcohol can clear your system.’

You can make up for a lack of sleep by napping

Naps may feel like the right idea when you’re feeling knackered in the afternoon.

Yet, hour-long kips won’t benefit you at all, Dr Browning claimed.

Only dozing for 10-20 minutes at a time will ‘leave you feeling refreshed’, she said.

She added: ‘Sleeping longer, for around an hour, isn’t as helpful… because you will wake from the deepest part of sleep, leaving you with sleep inertia and feeling sluggish.’

Sleep inertia is the temporary disorientation we all feel after waking up. Although harmless, it can have knock-on effects on our performance (especially at work).

Dr Browning, also a member of the British Sleep Society, said: ‘Napping should not become a replacement for regular night time sleep as it could perpetuate your poor sleep at night.

‘If you get too much sleep during the day, you may have problems sleeping at night due to being too awake.

‘Much like food, if you have a snack before your dinner, you won’t be hungry for your main meal — if you have a nap too near to bed time, you might find it especially hard to fall asleep at night as you won’t be as sleepy.’

There is no such thing as too much sleep

Having a lot of sleep may feel very relaxing but if you are regularly catching more than nine hours, it can lead to a variety of health issues such as obesity and stroke.

Experiencing too much sleep is also a side effect of depression as people use it to escape emotional pain and stress.

This can worsen the condition and overall mental wellbeing as it becomes a habit hard to break.

‘If someone is sleeping too much, it’s often an indication that their sleep quality is very poor’, Dr Browning added.

‘That means that although they might be getting 10 hours of sleep each night it is not as restorative as, say, seven hours good quality sleep.

‘Sleep apnoea is a prime example of this.’

This is when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep.

You can catch up on sleep with a lie-in

Those Sunday morning lie-ins may seem like a great idea but it could be the cause of your sleep problems for the week ahead.

Revealed: The FIVE steps to improve your sleep quality

Adopt a consistent sleep schedule (similar bed and wake time), including weekends

Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime

Ensure the bed and pillow are comfortable and that the room is cool, dark and quiet

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine – going screen-free 30 minutes before bedtime and going to bed when sleepy

Undertake exercise during the day to help fall asleep.

Being sleep deprived and relying on the weekend to recover may create a false sense of recovery.

It can take up to four days to recover one hour of lost sleep and up to nine to recover from sleep deprivation, according to Tokyo research.

Dr Browning suggested: ‘Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule ranging from around 7-9 hours, will be of most benefit to mental and physical health.

‘Try going to sleep and waking up at the same time on weekends as you do on weekdays in order to feel more refreshed and energised overall.’

Just stay in bed if you can’t fall asleep

Lying in bed for hours on end is not likely going to help you sleep.

If you haven’t dozed off after 20 minutes, it will be more beneficial to get out of bed and take a break.

Dr Browning said: ‘If you stay in bed, trying to force sleep to happen, it will likely have the opposite effect as you will become more and more anxious and frustrated with your inability to fall asleep.

‘It’s much better to take a break from trying to force sleep and failing, before trying again after that break.’

Try listening to music, reading a book and disconnecting from electronic devices to help.

Watching TV before bed is a good way to relax

The bright light emitted from the TV can interfere with your brain’s production of melatonin.

Stopping this production interrupts the regulation of circadian rhythm and synchronises your body clock.

The sleep expert said: ‘If your brain is more stimulated (especially by something stressful or anxiety provoking such as the news), it’s likely that sleep will be disrupted, which in the long run, could lead to depression and anxiety.’

Relaxing yoga or reading a book may help instead.

You should sleep in a warm room for better sleep

During sleep, our core body temperature drops after around two hours coinciding with the release of melatonin.

The body’s temperature continues to drop up until the early hours of the morning when it then starts to slowly warm up again.

Like Goldilocks, the ideal room temperature is not too hot and not too cold. The ideal is between 16 and 19C.

‘As we fall asleep, and through the night, our core body temperature drops, therefore the room needs to be cool enough to allow that to happen’, Dr Browning said.

‘Try opening a window for a cool breeze and see if your sleep improves.’

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