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Sleep Myths Debunked

A lot of people forego fixing their nighttime problems with sleeping by subscribing to a variety of popular sleep myths. Let’s look at some of these and then examine some things you can do to improve your sleep.

Myth #1: Some people are just naturally “short sleepers” requiring only six hours or less of sleep a night. True for less than 1 percent of the population, but not true for 99 percent-plus, who need 7 or 8 hours to avoid fatigue and other problems the next day. According to Emory University sleep expert David Schulman, MD, “Most of us need 7 to 8 hours of sleep to stay healthy.”

Myth #2: Napping only makes you more tired. Truth: Not if done correctly, as a 10-20-minute nap will indeed rejuvenate you. After about 20 minutes, however, the sleeping brain may mvoe into what’s called slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest type of sleep. If you go this far into a nap, yes, indeed, you can wake up groggy and sleepy. Stick to the short naps for rejuvenation, but don’t take them too closely to bedtime. It also helps to take the nap in a comfortable chair or sofa, anywhere except your bed, where a short nap may become a grog-induding, nighttime-sleep-wrecking long snooze.

Myth #3: Exercising too closely to bedtime will hurt your sleep. Actually, this is true for many, but not true for many others, so it really takes some experimentation to see what works for you. Exercising at night may be the only option for people with long work schedules, but be careful that you’re not the type for whom late exercising wrecks nighttime rejuvenation. “We don’t have hard data, so people really have to do their own testing,” says Michael Perlis, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program.

Myth #4: It’s normal to nod off during an office meeting or presentation. It’s not, though it is normal to wear down a bit in mid-afternoon, especially after a heavy or carb-rich lunch. But nodding off during meetings probably means you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or for several days and you’ve run up a sleep deficit. Think of it this way: If you body needs 8 hours of sleep each night but you get only 6 or 7 at best, then at the end of a week, you’ll have missed the equivalent of one full night’s sleep. Your body is going to feel the result, and you’ll find yourself nodding off at inappropriate times (not that any time is appropriate for being so sleep deprived).

Myth #5: Fight insomnia by going to bed earlier. Won’t work. Your body knows when it’s tired, just as it knows when it’s hungry. If you go to bed earlier, you may just end up tossing and turning and not doing anything constructive to improve your night’s sleep.

Myth #6: Missing a little sleep because of a fun activity that night or just because you wanted to finish a book or TV show won’t hurt. Wrong. Missing 90 minutes of sleep for just one night can reduce your alertness the next day by 32 percent. An Australian experiment found that volunteers who stayed awake six hours past their normal bedtime would perform as poorly on attentiveness and reaction-time tests as those who were legally drunk.

Myth #7: You can catch up on lost sleep on the weekend. While this is theoretically possible, it’s almost never practical unless you’re a hermit. Family, church, friends, kids, car fixes, shopping, Little LEague — all these and more militate against sleeping in on the weekend.

Myth #8: It doesn’t matter when you go to bed. Wrong. Studies have found that night owls are three times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those who retire at a more normal bedtime. Also, for optimal daytime energy, it’s important to retire and arise at the same times each day of the week, even on the weekend. This is just good sleep hygiene.

What to do if you have sleep issues? First step is to look through our blog for all the articles we’ve done on good sleep hygiene and then adopt the tips and methods detailed therein. Second, get professional help if you can’t work matters out on your own. Start with your family doctor and then seek out the sleep experts if you’re still groping for a “cure.” Sleep is too important for your daytimes to let go unattended if you’re experiening problems.


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