Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep: The Do's, Don'ts and What We Still Don't Know

A sleep researcher took to Reddit to answer some questions and dispel some common misconceptions.

learn more about Laura Entis

By Laura Entis

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Reddit's AMA (Ask Me Anything) platform is frequently used as a window into the souls of famous innovators and entrepreneurs: Elon Musk answered questions about his hygiene habits, Bill Gates shared details about his evolving work ethic and Buzz Aldrin discussed his view on tourism trips to Mars.

But the popular forum has other uses besides uncovering the habits and philosophies of the rich and famous: it's good at disseminating practical advice, too. Last week, Wendy Troxel, a sleep researcher and adjunct professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, took to the platform to answer users' questions about what we all dream of achieving: A good night's sleep.

She shared some helpful do's and don'ts when it comes to achieving quality rest, as well as a few questions for which researchers still don't have concrete answers.

Don't oversleep.

After an overworked week, it can be tempting to overdose on sleep, but spending too much time in bed doesn't necessarily lead to an uptick in energy – instead, it can have the opposite effect. "When we sleep too much we often experience "sleep inertia' ("the body asleep tends to want to stay asleep') -- and when that happens we often feel that groggy/ fatigued state," Troxel said. As good as it feels in the moment, drifting off again after you've already woken up – even on weekends – may lead to a lethargic, drowsy day.

Related: This Is Your Brain on Not Enough Sleep (Infographic)

Do maintain a consistent wake-up time.

This directly relates to Troxel's previous point: maintaining a regular sleep schedule throughout the week is key to achieving a healthy sleep cycle. This means getting up at a consistent time each day – even on weekends. "The time you wake up in the morning is actually even more important than the time you go to bed for ensuring a healthy night of sleep, because wake-up time helps to set your biological clock," she said.

Don't bring your work to bed with you.

The bed, advised Troxel, should be for "sleep and sex only." While all artificial light before bed has been shown to delay natural sleep cycles, the blue light from electronic screens is particularly harmful.

"Remove all technology from the bedroom -- and "disconnect' from technology (cell phones, etc.) at least one hour before bedtime," she wrote. For a restful night, "avoid engaging in other behaviors -- work, watching TV, etc. in the bedroom."

Don't try to get by on too little sleep.

Marissa Mayer, Elon Musk and Tim Cook are among the many successful entrepreneurs to publicly announced that they thrive on far less than the recommended eight hours a night. But attempting to follow-in their footsteps is a fool's errand. Wrote Troxel, "I think as a society we really suffer because we hold up specific examples of successful people who survived on little sleep, and hope that we can be the same, instead of realizing that, while there are clearly exceptions to the rule, the vast majority of research suggests quite strongly that as a species we think, behave, function, and feel better when we get adequate sleep."

Related: Mysterious Marissa Mayer: 5 Things You Might Not Know About the Yahoo CEO

Do cut down on the time spent in bed if you aren't sleeping through the night.

Many of us know the feeling, and it's terrible: lying in bed, wide awake, recalculating how tired we'll be in the morning as the minutes slip away. If you consistently find yourself in this position– in other words, if your sleep efficiency is low (the time you spend in bed is significantly longer than the time you actually sleep) -- consider going to bed later, a technique known as sleep restriction. "Instead of extending your time in bed in hopes to achieve even a small proportion of sleep within that window, try to limit your time in bed," Troxel said. "I'm not suggesting you cut away any more sleep, just cut away that time you are in bed not sleeping."

What we still don't know:

Why we sleep.

While researchers know that sleep is "critically important for our survival and every aspect of our health and functioning…we still can't pinpoint a single reason "why' we do it," said Troxel. It's likely that because sleep is doing so many different things simultaneously, it's hard to identify a single overarching reason for its existence. "The prevailing theories that I find most interesting focus on the role that sleep plays in the body's recovery and rejuvenation as well as playing a role in helping the brain "clear out debris' that builds up during the day," she continued, pointing to a recent study that suggests the brain is able to get rid of amyloid beta (a substance linked to Alzheimer's disease) more quickly during sleep than during wakefulness.

How affective naps are at restoring health benefits

Can periodic naps throughout the day replace a single block of sleep at night? The jury's still out, according to Troxel: "I think we need more data to determine if sleeping in smaller "chunks" as opposed to a consolidated 7-8 hours of sleep provides the same health benefits that we attribute to a solid night of sleep."

Related: How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Laura Entis
Laura Entis is a reporter for Fortune.com's Venture section.

Related Topics

Business News

Police: 82-Year-Old Woman Found Alive at New York Funeral Home After Being Pronounced Dead

The woman was found breathing almost three hours after she was pronounced dead.

Business News

An NFL Rookie Scores a $514,000 Jackpot in Las Vegas

Los Angeles Rams running back Ronnie Rivers sat down to play 3-card poker and left a half million dollars richer.

Innovation

The Greasy, Glamorous Rise of Mascara

You won't believe the grimy gunk people used to smear on their eyelashes -- and still do.

Business Ideas

How to Make Thousands of Dollars on the Side As a Virtual Assistant

Apply your skills and experience to create a lucrative virtual assistant side hustle or full-time business.

Living

Invest in Yourself: 10 Things Every Working Woman Should Do This Year

When striving for success, it is easy to forget about your mental and physical health. But without health, you cannot fully succeed. Follow these ten lifestyle strategies for success in your personal and professional life.

Leadership

Two Stanford Professors Explain How to Produce Hundreds of World-Changing Ideas In 1 Hour

Cramming everyone into a conference room to "spitball" is a disaster. But with some structure and a system, literally thousands of ideas are within reach.