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The Ten Most Common Sleep Myths

What is true about sleep?

Although sleep is something that we all need every day, there are many misconceptions that abound regarding this nightly necessity.  In an effort to help you ensure a thoroughly restful night, we’ve examined the ten most prevalent myths surrounding sleep.

1. Sleep isn’t really that important!  I can get by with just a few hours a night.

Incredibly, this idea remains a popular myth.  In today’s fast-paced society that’s overwhelmed by our desire for instant gratification, people all too often attempt to make up for lost time by cutting into their shut-eye.  The truth is that lack of sleep actually cuts down productivity by causing us to make more mental mistakes the next day.  Your body and brain operate far more efficiently when you get at least the recommended eight hours per night, as sleep is how both recover from our daily activities.  Although the brain does not entirely shut down at night, adequate rest allows it to process the information you took in the previous day.

2. I can wind down at the end of the day by watching TV or browsing the web.

Almost everyone has fallen prey to this belief at one time or other.  I remember that my own favorite way to fall asleep in college was to pop in a movie and wait until I felt drowsy.  The problem with that, as you may imagine, was that I usually ended up watching the whole movie.  It turns out that watching TV or surfing the Internet before bed will disturb your sleep environment and actually makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep.  Furthermore, if you let the television or computer run when you drop off, the ambient light and sound they create will interrupt your sleep cycle because your brain remains unconsciously aware of its surroundings, preventing you from acquiring the deep sleep you need at night.

3. Snoring is a normal thing some sleepers do.

For years, it was a generally-accepted belief that snoring was just a normal part of sleep for certain people.  Many people still believe that notion because the discovery that snoring is actually hard on the body was only made in the last half-century.  In fact, snoring only occurs when there is a narrowing, or constriction, of the air passages.  Such constriction will cause the soft,  “floppy” tissue in the back of your throat to vibrate, and create the [sometimes very noisy] snoring sound.  Snoring has been proven to be difficult on the heart [causing high blood pressure], and serious cases may lead to a diagnosis of sleep apnea, which can actually be fatal.

4. Naps don’t help if you’re sleepy.

I actually used to believe this one myself for a long time, and I avoided taking naps because I felt they only teased my appetite for sleep enough to make me grumpy when I woke up.  The truth of the matter, however, is that naps are a very good way to catch up on lost sleep: studies have shown that people perform cognitive tasks better after napping for one hour or more.  Be sure to time them properly, though, as taking a nap for longer than three hours or past three o’clock in the afternoon can make it difficult to fall asleep that night.

5. A lack of sleep during the week can be made up over the weekend.

This common sleep myth is possibly one of the worst habits to form, as sleeping long hours on the weekend while cutting down on them through the week can throw your body’s biological clock all out of whack.  Trying to catch up on your rest over the weekend will not actually reduce fatigue during the week either, and can lead to costly mistakes at work.

6. Getting just an hour less of sleep at night will not have any effect on daytime functioning.

This lack of sleep may not make you noticeably sleepy during the day, but even slightly less sleep than you’re used to can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly, and it can even compromise your cardiovascular health and energy balance as well as your body’s ability to fight infections– particularly if the lack of sleep continues.  If you’re consistently not getting enough sleep, a sleep debt will eventually build up that will indeed make you excessively tired during the day.

7. Your body can quickly adjust to different sleep schedules.

In fact, your biological clock makes you naturally most alert during the daytime and drowsy as night falls.  Thus, even if you work the night shift, you’ll simply automatically feel sleepy when nighttime comes.  Most people do have the ability to “reset” their biological clock, but only with appropriately-timed cues, and even then, by just one to two hours per day at best.  It can take more than a week, therefore, for you to adjust to a dramatically altered sleep/wake cycle, such as that you’d encounter when traveling across several time zones or switching from first shift at work to third.

8. Sleep is a time when your body and brain shut down for rest and relaxation.

No evidence whatsoever exists to prove that any major organ [including the brain] or regulatory system in the body shuts down completely when you sleep.  Interestingly enough, certain physiological processes actually become more active while you sleep.  For example, your body’s secretion of particular hormones is accelerated when you rest, and the activity of the pathways in your brain needed for learning and memory is heightened.

9. Children who don’t get enough sleep at night will show signs of sleepiness during the day.

Unlike adults, children who don’t get enough sleep at night actually become more active, on average, than normal during the following day.  They may also show difficulty in both paying attention and behaving properly, so these children may be consequently misdiagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD].

10. The main cause of insomnia is worry.

Although worry or stress may lead to a brief bout of insomnia, a persistent inability to fall asleep [or stay asleep] at night can be caused by a number of other factors.  Taking certain medications or suffering from a sleep disorder can easily keep you awake at night.  Other common causes of insomnia include depression, anxiety, asthma, arthritis, or a number of other medical conditions with symptoms which become more troublesome at night.

American Medical Network. Top 10 Sleep Myths. http://sleep.health.am/sleep/more/top-10-sleep-myths/. Retrieved 06.15.09.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Power Nap” Prevents Burnout; Morning Sleep Perfects a Skill.http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2002/power-nap-prevents-burnout-morning-sleep-perfects-a-skill.shtml. Retrieved 09.15.09

38 Comments Post a comment
  1. would love a pillow

    April 11, 2012
  2. I sleep about 4 hours a night due to insomnia. I even have a tempur pedic and also a I-comfort bed. I see here and it’s true. Worry is kicking me out of bed every night

    April 11, 2012
  3. Great article! I thought i was losing sleep do to worrying, good to know that’s not the issue.

    April 11, 2012
  4. This is very true.

    April 11, 2012
  5. I snore like a chainsaw.Please give me a free pillow before I die in my sleep.

    April 11, 2012
  6. Thanks for the great article, i was a believer of many of those myths.

    April 11, 2012
  7. Fact 10 is so true my pillow is so damaged from being restless its not even funny its limp in all directions Please pick me I would love a new pillow

    April 11, 2012
  8. ladyboarder9669 #

    Intersting! Thanks for the fun contest! xo

    @ldayboarder9669

    April 11, 2012
  9. I am now a great believer in the Power Of Naps. I’m mum to a toddler with #2 due any day and the best advice I ever received was “sleep when they sleep”

    April 11, 2012
  10. i would love a comfy new pillow..

    April 11, 2012
  11. i knew a lot of these b/c i suffer from sleep deprivation.. i didn’t realize that a nap was really not beneficial… thanks for posting…

    April 11, 2012
  12. Very good article and #9 is especially interesting and good to know.

    April 11, 2012
  13. Interesting stuff. I never get enough sleep. Might have to work a bit harder and going to be an hour earlier.

    April 11, 2012
  14. I’m always worried about my children getting enough sleep. Good article.

    April 11, 2012
  15. would love a pillow!

    April 11, 2012
  16. Great article! My hubby is a snorer.

    April 11, 2012
  17. love the article, would love to get more sleep

    April 11, 2012
  18. The T.V. and my computer are horrible ways for me to try and ‘wind down” – I plan on staying on just for a few minutes then boom its hours!

    April 11, 2012
  19. I snore something horrible! Thanks for the chance to win!

    April 11, 2012
  20. I would live a pillow

    April 11, 2012
  21. Very informative article! I should have my husband’s snoring checked out. I am glad to know worry is not the only cause for insomnia and we can’t catch up on sleep on weekends! I would love to try the comfy pillows to see if they improve our sleep quality!!

    April 11, 2012
  22. i’m a new mom. of course I need a good new pillow

    April 11, 2012
  23. I would love a pillow. I’ve invested in a memory foam under mattress but still wake up after about 5 hours. I find I’m thinking about work as soon as I wake up. Looks like it’s worry keeping me awake 😦

    April 11, 2012
  24. Wow, learned something new…lol. Great atricle

    April 11, 2012
  25. Daughter and son-in-law sleeping with 15 month old twins….need the pillows!!!!

    April 11, 2012
  26. My husband really needs this pillow… 😀

    April 11, 2012
  27. very informative article…I am def. going to forward this article to my friends and family! @gigstarr

    April 11, 2012
  28. Thanks for sharing this awesome article!

    April 11, 2012
  29. Great artcle! I can completely relate to Myth 10.

    April 11, 2012
  30. man sleep is so important and so is a good pillow. 🙂

    April 12, 2012
  31. This is a very informative article. I learned a lot from it. Thanks!

    April 12, 2012
  32. I am trying seriously trying to sleep better and makr it quality

    April 12, 2012
  33. My sleep is interrupted nightly. I wish I had a comfy new pillow!!

    April 12, 2012
  34. I didn’t realize depression caused insomnia.. i was hoping it was just worrying! LOL

    April 12, 2012
  35. When I don’t get enough sleep, everyon knows it!

    April 12, 2012
  36. I don’t know how anyone can say sleep is “not important” yikes, I’m a grouch without my 8 hours.

    April 13, 2012
  37. Love comfy pillows! Sleep so well!

    April 15, 2012
  38. operationblessingbrigade #

    Have been through the gamut of many pillows of many varieties and prices. Am battling life threatening illness due to spinal tumors, and sleep and rest are paramount in trying to slow its progress/and or pain levels. Seems like 2 of the last memory foam type pillows were great in the beginning, but within a couple months became very flat… one was inexpensive, the other very expensive… both with same result. Would love to find a great memory foam , or even one of those “cooling” pillows!
    Cathy B pbprojecthope at yahoo dot com
    @projecthope7 twitter
    palmbreezeliving blogspot dot com

    April 19, 2012

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