Solutions to the Seven Most Common Sleep Myths

By Dr. Narinder Duggal and Dr. Leslie Van Romer

We all know that sleep is absolutely critical to feel your best, look your best and perform at your best – every day. A lack of sleep can result in issues such as decreased productivity, creativity and focus, but a continuous lack of sleep can lead to more serious health issues. While the quality and quantity sleep take front and center stage, there are other major health players such as: eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, making time for 60 minutes of exercise each day, taking in fresh air, drinking lots of water and having an uplifting outlook on life.

Sleep is important but there is a lot of confusion about how we can get this sacred time to rest, recuperate and reenergize. Sometimes the confusion and misinformation is harmless; sometimes it is dangerous.  Here are the solutions to the top seven myths about getting your daily zzz’s:

Myth #1: Snoring may be annoying to a sleep partner, but it is never harmful.

Fact: Snoring may be harmless, but it can also be a symptom of a life-threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea, especially if it is accompanied by severe daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea, or pauses in breathing while sleeping, prevents air flow, reduces oxygen levels and strains the heart and cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. People with sleep apnea awaken frequently during the night. Obesity can also contribute to sleep apnea.

Solution: Lose weight and if you suspect sleep apnea, get it checked out. It is treatable. Newer, medical advancements can assist in helping you get a good night’s sleep.

Myth #2: 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. When we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep “debt” that can be difficult to “pay back.” The result: sleep deprivation, which is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, mood swings, decreased productivity and safety issues in the home, on the job and on the road.

Solution: Put your body and health first and get to bed early enough for your full eight hours of rest.

Myth #3: Insomnia means difficulty falling asleep.

Fact: Difficulty falling asleep is only one of the four symptoms associated with insomnia. The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep; frequent awakenings during the night; and waking up feeling un-refreshed. Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other health problems. According to a recent National Sleep Foundation poll, 58% of adults in this country reported at least one symptom of insomnia in the past year.

Solution: Daily exercise, loading up on lots of whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding or eliminating stimulants from the diet, such as caffeine, chocolate and refined sugar in foods and drinks. When insomnia symptoms occur more than a few times a week and impact a person’s daily life, the symptoms should be discussed with the appropriate health care provider.

Myth #4: Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression are unrelated to the quantity and quality of a person’s sleep.

Fact: Studies have found a direct relationship between sleep and many health problems. 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. Insufficient sleep impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, leading to the onset of diabetes.

Solution: Losing weight and building up one’s health with whole fruits and vegetables, while reducing fat-loaded foods, such as meat, cheese, and hydrogenated fats found in many processed foods can help. Also, 60 minutes of daily exercise and avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, chocolate and white sugar found in drinks and foods.

Myth #5: The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.

Fact: Just like most adults, people over the age of 65 need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. While sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of sleep we need generally does not. In fact, a poll by the National Sleep Foundation’s found that older adults typically do not sleep less than their younger counterparts, but an average of seven hours. Poor health, not age, is a major reason why many older people report sleep problems.

Solution: Building healthy, lifelong habits is a must to getting a good night’s sleep and enjoying life as a senior. Daily walking, deep-breathing and stretching exercises, spending time with family and friends and jumping into a hobby can contribute to a good night’s sleep. Eat the right kind of foods and avoid caffeine, refined and processed foods, and fatty foods. Napping in the very early afternoon, around noon, is less likely to interfere with sleeping at night. And, of course, get down to your ideal body weight.

Myth #6: During sleep, your brain rests.

Fact: The body rests during sleep. However, the brain remains active and gets “recharged.” During sleep, you drift between two sleep states, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM, in 90-minute cycles. Non-REM sleep, when our minds can still process information, 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 the most positive and restorative effects of sleep occur. REM sleep is an active sleep where dreams occur and eyes move back and forth under the eyelids.

Myth #7: 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 asleep.

Fact: If you wake up in the middle of the night, relaxing imagery or thoughts may help to induce sleep more than counting sheep, which may be more distracting than relaxing.

Solution: Most experts agree that if you do not fall back asleep within 15-20 minutes, 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. The bed should be associated with sleep and sex only.

Read other articles and learn more about Dr. Leslie Van Romer and Narinder Duggal, M.D.

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