The 11 Biggest Sleep Myths Exposed
For something that we all do and have done from the day we were born, sleep is a remarkably misunderstood function. From the earliest days when scientists believed that sleep represented the body and brain coming to a complete halt, to today when researchers have conduct thousands of complex studies into its processes, sleep has always been the subject of myths and misguided beliefs. Understanding what is truth and what is fiction is an important step to getting a better night’s sleep and improved overall health.
Myth 1: People Can Get Too Much Sleep
You’ve probably had the experience of sleeping late into the afternoon and then waking up feeling groggy. Though most people attribute this to getting too much sleep, it’s actually a matter of having woken up in the midst of the second natural sleep cycle in your body’s circadian clock. We are all programmed to sleep through the night as well as for a short time twelve hours later, but Western culture has eliminate that mid-afternoon nap (or siesta). If you wake in the middle of this time period, you will likely feel out of sorts. Alternatively, if you sleep longer than usual and wake up feeling tired outside of this time period, there’s a good chance that it’s because you’re still sleep deprived.
Myth 2: Old People Don’t Need as Much Sleep
This is a common belief that arises from the fact that older people are often up earlier than those in the younger generation, as well as the fact that their sleep cycle is often disrupted. People have come to believe that they are waking up because they don’t need the sleep, but in fact we all need roughly the same several hours each night. The early waking is often caused by an earlier bedtime, and the disrupted sleep is often caused by mid-day naps, which are taken more frequently by older people.
Myth 3: Snoring is No Big Deal
Snoring may be funny in situation comedies and cartoons, but it can be deadly serious. What for some may just be an annoyance to their sleep partners for others can be a sign of a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, which can lead to disrupted breathing, heart attack and sudden death. If you are extremely fatigued during the day or you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, this should be taken up with your physician right away.
Myth 4: Drinking Alcohol is an Effective Sleep Aid
There’s no doubt that having an alcoholic drink or two will make you feel sleepier, and may actually make you fall asleep quickly. But the overall impact that alcohol has on your system while you are in the midst of that sleep has the opposite effect; you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, or more likely to snore. Sleeping with alcohol in your system robs you of the deep sleep that your body needs to rejuvenate.
Myth 5: Five or Six Hours of Sleep is Fine
Though the majority of the population may in fact be getting by on five or six hours of sleep, that doesn’t mean that it’s all that they need. Most people require seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and though we may be functioning on less, it doesn’t mean that we are functioning well. Getting less sleep than we need over a sustained period puts us at multiple disadvantages; we don’t feel as energetic, our moods are diminished, and we don’t think as clearly.
Myth 6 You Should Remember Your Dreams
People often worry about themselves if they can’t remember their dreams – or they believe that they are not dreaming at all. We all dream each and every night, and our ability to remember what we’ve dreamed is often a function of the amount of time that passes between having the dream and when we wake up. The longer the time that passes, the less likelihood that you will remember.
Myth 7: I Didn’t Sleep a Wink
How many times have you heard somebody say (or said yourself) that they didn’t sleep at all the night before? Insomniacs may believe that they didn’t get any shut eye, but the fact is that it is highly unlikely that’s what actually happened. Time loses its meaning when you are asleep, so though you may have had a shortened night, chances are good that what felt like only a couple of minutes was actually a few hours.
Myth 8: We Can Train Ourselves to Require Less Sleep
Like those who believe themselves to only need five or six hours, humans may be able to continue to function with less sleep, but they are not functioning well – in fact, the more sleep-deprived we are, the less productive we become. Many studies have been done on the body’s abilities when only allowed partial sleep, and the results have shown decreased performance, with no leveling off.
Myth 9: We Can Learn While We Sleep
Wouldn’t it be great if it were true that you could plug in a recording of your text books, play the while you sleep, and wake up smarter and ready for your exams? Sadly, there is no truth to the notion. The closest this myth comes to reality is the fact that a good night’s sleep will help your performance on exams…. But you still need to study!
Myth 10: Daytime Sleeping is a Result of Laziness
Contrary to popular belief, sleeping during the day is not a result of laziness.
People fall asleep during nontraditional sleep hours for just one reason: their body needs it. Whether it is a function of not getting enough sleep or a physiological problem such as an illness or a side effect of taking a medication, laziness is not a part of the equation.
Myth 11: Napping is a Problem
Napping is a double-edged sword, and the question of whether it’s a benefit or a bad habit is often related to the timing of the nap. If taking a nap is needed to help you get through the day, refreshes you and doesn’t interfere with your ability to sleep at night, then it’s fine. If, however, naps are taken too close to bed time and therefore keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep, or if they’re being taken as a result of insomnia and are furthering an interrupted and insufficient sleep cycle, then they exacerbate a problem.