Myths and Facts About Sleep
There are many common myths about sleep. We hear them frequently, and
may even experience them far too often. Sometimes they can be
characterized as "old wives tales," but there are other times the
incorrect information can be serious and even dangerous. The National
Sleep Foundation has compiled this list of common myths about sleep, and
the facts that dispel them.
Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it isn’t harmful.
Although snoring may be harmless for most people, it can be a
symptom of a life threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea,
especially if it is accompanied by severe daytime sleepiness. Sleep
apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing that prevent air from
flowing into or out of a sleeping person’s airways. People with sleep
apnea awaken frequently during the night gasping for breath. The
breathing pauses reduce blood oxygen levels, can strain the heart and
cardiovascular system, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Snoring on a frequent or regular basis has been directly associated with
hypertension. Obesity and a large neck can contribute to sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be treated; men and women who snore loudly, especially
if pauses in the snoring are noted, should consult a physician.
You can "cheat" on the amount of sleep you get.
Sleep experts say most adults need between seven and nine hours of
sleep each night for optimum performance, health and safety. When we
don't get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be
difficult to "pay back" if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep
deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high
blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and
safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.
Turning up the radio, opening the window, or turning on the air conditioner are effective ways to stay awake when driving.
These "aids" are ineffective and can be dangerous to the person who
is driving while feeling drowsy or sleepy. If you're feeling tired while
driving, the best thing to do is to pull off the road in a safe rest
area and take a nap for 15-45 minutes. Caffeinated beverages can help
overcome drowsiness for a short period of time. However, it takes about
30 minutes before the effects are felt. The best prevention for drowsy
driving is a good night’s sleep the night before your trip.
Teens who fall asleep in class have bad habits and/or are lazy.
According to sleep experts, teens need at least 8.5 – 9.25 hours of
sleep each night, compared to an average of seven to nine hours each
night for most adults. Their internal biological clocks also keep them
awake later in the evening and keep them sleeping later in the morning.
However, many schools begin classes early in the morning, when a
teenager's body wants to be asleep. As a result, many teens come to
school too sleepy to learn, through no fault of their own.
Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep.
Difficulty falling asleep is but one of four symptoms generally
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. Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder or
other medical or psychological/psychiatric problem, and can often be
treated. According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2002 Sleep in
America poll, 58 percent of adults in this country reported at least one
symptom of insomnia in the past year. When insomnia symptoms occur more
than a few times a week and impact a person’s daytime functions, the
symptoms should be discussed with a doctor or other health care
Daytime sleepiness always means a person isn't getting enough sleep.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is a condition in which an individual
feels very drowsy during the day and has an urge to fall asleep when
he/she should be fully alert and awake. The condition, which can occur
even after getting enough nighttime sleep, can be a sign of an
underlying medical condition or sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or
sleep apnea. These problems can often be treated, and symptoms should be
discussed with a physician. Daytime sleepiness can be dangerous and
puts a person at risk for drowsy driving, injury, and illness and can
impair mental abilities, emotions, and performance.
Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and
depression are unrelated to the amount and quality of a person's sleep.
Studies have found a relationship between the quantity and quality
of one's sleep and many health problems. For example, insufficient sleep
affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity; as the
amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain
increases. Blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle, however,
interrupted sleep can adversely affect this normal decline, leading to
hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Research has also shown that
insufficient sleep impairs the body's ability to use insulin, which can
lead to the onset of diabetes. More and more scientific studies are
showing correlations between poor and insufficient sleep and disease.
The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.
Sleep experts recommend a range of seven to nine hours of sleep for
the average adult. While sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of
sleep we need generally does not. Older people may wake more frequently
through the night and may actually get less nighttime sleep, but their
sleep need is no less than younger adults. Because they may sleep less
during the night, older people tend to sleep more during the day. Naps
planned as part of a regular daily routine can be useful in promoting
wakefulness after the person awakens.
During sleep, your brain rests.
The body rests during sleep, however, the brain remains active, gets
"recharged," and still controls many body functions including
breathing. When we sleep, we typically drift between two sleep states,
REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM, in 90-minute cycles. Non-REM sleep
has four stages with distinct features, ranging from stage one
drowsiness, when one can be easily awakened, to "deep sleep" stages
three and four, when awakenings are more difficult and where the most
positive and restorative effects of sleep occur. However, even in the
deepest non-REM sleep, our minds can still process information. REM
sleep is an active sleep where dreams occur, breathing and heart rate
increase and become irregular, muscles relax and eyes move back and
forth under the eyelids.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in
bed, count sheep, or toss and turn until you eventually fall back
Waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back
to sleep is a symptom of insomnia. Relaxing imagery or thoughts may help
to induce sleep more than counting sheep, which some research suggests
may be more distracting than relaxing. Whichever technique is used, most
experts agree that if you do not fall back asleep within 15-20 minutes,
you should get out of bed, go to another room and engage in a relaxing
activity such as listening to music or reading. Return to bed when you
feel sleepy. Avoid watching the clock.
Take a few minutes this month to check out the National Sleep
Foundations: Sleep Diary. Click here to see how your habits
affect your sleep over the course of a week.
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