(Source: National Sleep Foundation)
A good deal of what we have heard about sleep and health is the result of myth or misinformation. Some of the prevailing ideas regarding sleep may even be dangerous. Here are some common beliefs about sleep, and the truth behind the stories.
Snoring may be an annoyance but it is harmless.
This may be true for most people, but sometimes snoring is a symptom of a disorder known as sleep apnea. This condition interrupts breathing during sleep. Sufferers of sleep apnea frequently snore, and in severe cases awaken several times during the night out of breath. Sleep apnea may have serious consequences. Snoring may also be associated with obesity, which can obstruct the airway.
Chronic snorers, especially those whose snoring is interrupted, should be examined by their physician to ensure that their nighttime noise is not caused by a potentially life-threatening problem
A full night’s sleep is recommended but you can get by on less.
Sleeping less than the amount you need not only makes you tired, it can be harmful to your health. Obesity, high blood pressure, depression, lowered productivity and mental alertness, even safety hazards are the consequences of too little sleep.
If you get sleepy while driving, you can help stay awake by turning up the radio or opening the window.
These tactics can fool you; they may provide a momentary boost to alertness but a tired body soon stops noticing these stimuli, and you’re nodding off again. A more appropriate response to sleepiness while driving is to pull off the road in a protected area and take a nap, for at least 15 minutes. Even that is only a temporary measure. The only safe means of preventing the danger of drowsy driving is prevention: plenty of sleep the night before.
Adolescents are grown up enough to sleep the same number of hours that adults do.
The teen who gets sleepy in class is not showing signs of laziness or inattention. Sleep experts report that adolescents require more sleep than the average adult — at least 8-1/2 to 9-1/2 hours every night, compared to 7 to 9 hours for a typical 30-year-old. One problem is that teenagers’ biological clocks are close to the adult rhythm, keeping them awake later in the evening and sleeping later in the morning hours. Because many schools begin classes in the early morning, these students may be chronically deficient in the sleep they need.
You don’t have insomnia if you don’t have trouble falling asleep.
Difficulty falling asleep is but one of four symptoms associated with insomnia. The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, frequent awakenings, and waking up feeling unrefreshed. Any of these types of insomnia may be a symptom of a sleep disorder or of another medical problem. Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression are genetic or lifestyle issues, not related to sleep.
To the contrary, scientific studies have found a link between sleep and many health problems. For example, insufficient sleep affects the production of growth hormones related to weight maintenance. Cardiovascular problems, the potential for developing diabetes, and other disease states appear to be connected to poor sleep.
When you get older, you need less sleep.
It is the sleep pattern that seems to change as we get older, not the amount of sleep we need. Older people may wake more frequently through the night, but they tend to take more daytime naps.
Sleep is the time for your brain to rest.
In fact a great deal of mental activity takes place during certain stages of sleep. There are multiple stages in each 90-minute sleep cycle. Even in the deepest part of each cycle, the brain is processing information or dreaming. Scientists are still not sure why we dream, but it is known that the periods of brain activity serve a vital restorative function.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, try to count sheep or use some other way to get back to sleep.
If you’ve ever awakened and told yourself you have to get back to sleep, you know how impossible this is. If you’re waiting to fall asleep and it doesn’t happen after about 15 minutes, you may want to get out of bed and find something relaxing to do. This may help you feel sleepy again, and then you can go back to bed.
The dangers of poor sleep in numbers:
• Average amount that Americans sleep per night on weekdays: 6.9 hours
• Average amount that Americans sleep per night on weekends: 7.5 hours
• Number of people in the United States affected by a sleep problem: 70 million
• Number for whom the problem is chronic and/or frequent: 40 million
• Financial losses in the US due to sleep deprivation/disorders: $100 billion per year
• Direct healthcare costs of insomnia, including treatment: $14 billion per year
• Indirect costs (missed work, property damage, etc.): $28 billion per year
• Proportion of Americans who report sleep problems: approximately 70%
• Proportion of children who report frequent sleep problems: 69%
• Proportion of older adults who report frequent sleep problems: 67%
• Number of automobile accidents caused by drowsy drivers: 100,000 per year
• Number of fatalities and injuries in these accidents: 72,500 per year
• Proportion of Americans who admit to have driven while drowsy: 51%
• Proportion who admit to have dozed off while driving: 17%
Based on research and surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, National Institutes of Health, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
You may want to read What is the biological purpose of sleep?
and Get More Sleep