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Myths and Facts About Sleep

Myth:

Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression have no relation to the amount and quality of a person’s sleep.

Fact: More and more scientific studies are showing correlations between poor quality sleep and/or insufficient sleep with a variety of diseases. Blood pressure is variable during the sleep cycle. Interrupted sleep, however, can negatively affect the normal variability and may lead to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Research indicates that insufficient sleep impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. Fragmented sleep can cause a lowered metabolism and increased levels of the hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol levels can result in an increased appetite and a decrease in one’s ability to burn calories.

Myth:

The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.

Fact: Sleep experts recommend a total sleep time of seven to nine hours of sleep for the average adult. Sleep patterns change as people age, but the amount of sleep they generally need does not. Older people may wake more frequently through the night and may actually get less nighttime sleep, but their need for sleep is no less than that of younger adults. Older people tend to sleep more during the day because they may sleep less during the night.

Myth:

Snoring is a common problem but is not harmful.

Fact: Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that is associated with other medical problems. Sleep apnea is characterized by episodes of cessation of airflow or decreased airflow throughout the night. People with sleep apnea may remember waking up frequently during the night gasping for breath. The breathing pauses may be related to reduced blood oxygen levels, which can strain the heart and cardiovascular system. Over time, sleep apnea can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease if it is not treated. The good news is that sleep apnea can be treated. People who snore loudly should consult a physician, especially if pauses in snoring are noted and daytime tiredness is present. Snoring on a frequent or regular basis has been associated with hypertension. In addition, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity. As the amount of hormone secretion decreases the chance of weight gain increases.

Myth:

You can "cheat" on the amount of sleep you get.

Fact: Sleep experts say that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health, and safety.

Myth:

Teens who fall asleep in class have bad habits and/or are lazy.

Fact: 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. The internal biological clocks of teenagers can keep them awake later in the evening and can interfere with waking up in the morning.

Myth:

Insomnia is characterized only by difficulty falling asleep.

Fact: There are four symptoms usually associated with insomnia:

  • Difficulty falling asleep,
  • Waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep,
  • Frequent awakenings, and
  • Waking up without feeling refreshed.

Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other medical, psychological or psychiatric problems. Insomnia is a treatable disorder. Symptoms should be discussed with a health care professional when those symptoms occur more than a few times a week and start to affect a person’s daytime functioning.

Myth:

Daytime sleepiness always means a person is not getting enough sleep.

Fact: Excessive daytime sleepiness can occur even after a person gets enough sleep. Such sleepiness can be a sign of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. Symptoms should be discussed with a physician.

Myth:

During sleep, your brain rests.

Fact: The body rests during sleep. Despite this fact, the brain remains active, gets "recharged," and still controls many body functions including breathing. When we sleep, we typically drift between two basic sleep states, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non-REM (NREM) sleep, which consists of Sleep Stages One through Four. Sleep can be important to helping with consolidating your memories and cognitive functioning.

Myth:

If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in bed trying to fall back asleep, or to toss and turn until you eventually fall back to sleep.

Fact: 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. However, most experts agree that if you do not fall back to sleep within 15 to 20 minutes, you should get out of bed. You should go to another room, and engage in a relaxing activity like listening to music or reading. Don’t watch the clock. Return to bed only when you feel tired.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/11/2008...#12141