Sleep Myths Debunked

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Most people have at least a few groggy notions about sleep. Do you find any of these seven common myths persuasive?

Getting an Authentic Good Night’s Sleep

Many of us have trouble sleeping.

Tens of millions of Americans suffer from sleep problems—and we are willing to try almost anything to catch some Z’s. But for every good suggestion you hear about how to sleep better, there’s another that is ineffective or, worse, makes it even harder to get to sleep.

What are the myths about sleep, and what are the facts?

MYTH: You can never get enough sleep.

Turns out sleeping too much may be just as harmful as sleeping too little. A massive study conducted by researchers in Taiwan found that people who regularly sleep substantially more than eight hours a night have almost the same increased risk of death from coronary disease as people who sleep four hours or less. Sometimes an individual needs more sleep than usual for perfectly good reasons. But routinely excessive sleep is associated with depression, back pain, even heart disease.

MYTH: Older adults need less sleep than younger adults.

The misunderstanding may have something to do with the fact that children do need more sleep than adults. But any mature adult should be getting about seven to eight hours on average. And although it’s true that older adults more frequently have trouble sleeping, having trouble sleeping doesn’t make the need for sleep any less acute.

The National Institute for Health provides a handy chart indicating the different amounts of sleep recommended for infants (16 to 18 hours), toddlers (11 to 12 hours), school-age children (at least ten hours), teens (nine to ten hours) and adults (seven to eight hours).

MYTH: You can’t make up for lost sleep.

Working longer, playing harder, and in general juggling more responsibilities as an adult all make it difficult to get the necessary seven to eight hours of sleep every night. So can you use weekends to work off your sleep debt? Researchers say yes, but suggest that it’s not that easy to do. A co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, Dr. Lawrence Epstein, suggests that a person sleep an extra three to four hours on a weekend plus another one to two extra hours the following week to make up for a ten-hour sleep deficit accumulated during the previous week.

MYTH: Resting with your eyes closed is as good as sleeping.

Meditatively quieting your mind can help reduce stress and provide allied health benefits. But it is no substitute for the way that the different stages of slumber restore your physical and cognitive abilities.

MYTH: Snoring is harmless.

Well, not if somebody bops you over the head for snoring too loud…. Setting that hazard aside, though, it is never healthy to have your sleep cycle interrupted. Snoring can also be a symptom of allergies or of chronic health problems like sleep apnea. So talk to your doctor if your snoring is causing you to wake up intermittently during the night. And don’t let the problem get to the point where it obstructs your breathing.

MYTH: Alcohol helps you sleep.

A half-truth at best. It is true that a nightcap can help you get to sleep faster. But as a study published in the journal Alcohol elaborates, any relaxing effects of alcohol come at the cost of disrupting the body’s ability to regulate sleep. Faster sleep early in the night is often followed by lighter sleep and wakefulness later on in the night. Harder drinkers have bigger problems sleeping properly.

MYTH: It’s okay to sleep with the television on.

Even if you find background noise soothing, the fluctuating volumes and patterns of sound emanating from a television are likely to interrupt your sleep. There is also evidence that the artificial light of a television screen or computer monitor makes you more susceptible to depression.

Sleep is as important to your health as food, water, air and exercise. If you consistently have trouble sleeping, talk to a medical professional to make sure you don’t have a sleep disorder. Contact our Metairie or Chalmette offices to schedule an appointment with one of our sleep specialists.

Image by Andriy Popov/123RF.