Six sleeps myths you need to stop believing

Monday, May 02, 2016 by Dr Trefor Morgan

Many of us don’t give sleep the recognition it deserves, or we’re constantly fooled by sleep myths and misconceptions.

We spend about one third of our lives asleep, so why on earth wouldn’t we prioritise it? That’s why this week we’re setting the record straight by busting some common sleep myths that are keeping you up at night.


Sleep myth #1: snoring is harmless

About half of all people snore at some point in their lives, and it’s more common in men than women.

While snoring can be harmless for many people, to others, it can be a warning sign of a more serious sleeping or breathing issue, not to mention it could be driving your partner crazy.

Sleep apnea

Those who snore might in fact suffer from sleep apnea, a condition where people actually stop breathing multiple times during the night because the throat muscles fail to keep the airway open. This results in disrupted sleep but can also lead to a variety of health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes.

Snoring might seem innocent enough, as long as you don’t have to listen to it, but it could be your body’s way of telling you there’s something else going on. The first step is to discuss any sleep problems with your doctor. From there, you can be referred to a sleep specialist.


Sleep myth #2: the ‘8 hours of sleep’ myth

The National Sleep Foundation tells us the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night, and it seems people have interpreted the 8-hour average as the standard instead, hence the ‘8 hours of sleep’ myth.

The truth is your sleeping need is as unique as you are! Some people need more; some people need less. It’s as simple as that.

So how can you determine your needs? Listen to your body (and to other people):

  • •  Do you need an alarm to wake you up in the morning? (And are you constantly hitting ‘snooze’?)
  • •  Is it hard for you to get out of bed in the morning?
  • •  Are you irritable and cranky in the morning?
  • •  Are people telling you that you look tired?
  • •  Do you fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed?

If you answered yes to these questions, you need more sleep.

(But did you know there are also certain health risks associated with sleeping too much?)


Sleep myth #3: teenage sleep patterns: your teens are lazy

No doubt you, as a teen were told this, or you’re now relaying it to your own teenagers.

Poor things – they can’t catch a break!

You might’ve gotten away with telling your teens they’re sloths when they sleep in, but it’s not just them being lazy: it’s biological.

This is because the body clock runs as much as a few hours later during adolescence than during any other part of our lives and that means teens find it easier to fall asleep later. Forcing them to sleep earlier won’t change this, but, because of the early start times of school (particularly in the US where start times can be as early as 7am), they have to get up earlier than they’d like, resulting in them losing a few hours of much-needed sleep every night.

This is why, according to a recent poll, 87 per cent of US teens get less than the recommended 9-10 hours of sleep every night.

So next time you blame social media, video games or laziness on a teen’s inclination to stay up late and sleep in, remember they’re just listening to their body’s natural clock. (Now, go and apologise to your teens.)


Sleep myth #4: the elderly can get away with less sleep

We all know someone older than us who always seems to rise at the crack of dawn. Perhaps this sentiment is drawing up memories of grandma and grandpa, or your next-door neighbour, who always seems to be up before the sun, pottering around with their ladder and paint cans.

Older people may struggle to sleep well during the night, and disrupted sleep actually results in them getting less sleep, even though their sleep requirements do not decrease as they age.

Slight changes to the circadian rhythm also encourages older people to go to sleep earlier in the night, thus causing in an earlier wake-up time, too. This pattern is called advanced sleep phase syndrome.


Sleep myth #5: you can tell when you’re about to fall asleep

Besides oxygen, the three fundamentals that keep humans alive are food, water and sleep. You can choose to not eat food or drink water, but, no matter what you do or how hard you try, you can never stop yourself from falling asleep; it’s too strong, and when it reaches its threshold, it will beat you.

Remember this: you cannot predict when you are about to fall asleep.

If you are lying in front of the television that hardly matters, but if you’re driving after a long shift or dinner and drinks with friends, drowsiness can prove deadly.

30% of drivers will fall asleep at the wheel at least once in their life. (That statistic comes from circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster’s 2013 TED Talk. If you have 20 minutes to spare, check it out.)


Sleep myth #6: alcohol helps you sleep

Alcohol does not help you sleep; it can help you to fall asleep. While those two sentiments sound really similar, there’s a huge difference between them…

Alcohol is a sedative: it sedates you so you feel like it’s easing the transition to sleep.

It helps you fall asleep. It doesn’t, however, provide you with sleep.

It is a short-term acute measure that is not a sustainable means to fall asleep, let alone receive high quality sleep. (Alcohol-induced sleep is usually lighter and you will probably be restless.)

Were you fooled? How many of these sleep myths did you believe?

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