Why Sleep Tips Don’t Work
Published in The Huffington Post
Tips are ubiquitous in modern life. We are offered cooking tips, golf tips and gardening tips. There are an abundance of management, childrearing, automotive and tax tips available. And tips for weight loss, high fashion, exercise, skin care and of course, sleep, abound.
My recent Google search for “sleep tips” yielded 333 million various and sundry results. I found simple tips, proven tips, great tips, surprising tips, top ten tips, unconventional tips and healthful tips, as well as special tips for pregnant women, babies, toddlers, teens, college kids, stressed-out adults and the elderly. There are tips provided by doctors, consultants, coaches, clergy members and clinics, as well as mattress manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and much, much more.
Our common presumption is that such tips can help us tweak our way to healthy sleep. But can they really? Having authored my share of sleep tips and spoken to many sleep-concerned patients about them, I think it’s time we reconsider their impact and value.
The media have a curious proclivity to entice us with numbered tips. Five tips for managing jet lag, four tips for better naps, seven tips for avoiding nightmares. There are countless articles offering three tips, eight tips, 10 tips, 42 tips and yes, a couple of web sites boasting exactly 100 tips for better sleep. Such enumeration seems to imply that, like the Ten Commandments, the 12-step program, the seven deadly sins or the Four Noble Truths, such lists are exact, precise and ultimately definitive. Quantifying tips also lends them an undeserved air of scientific specificity and legitimacy. We are seduced.
Discovering long lists of apparently credible tips to help manage sleep concerns may initially be heartening to the sleep-weary. But such lists can quickly foster confusion, be overwhelming and can even produce anxiety.