Sleep is vital for our health and wellbeing, yet myths about how sleep abound – how much do you need and what does it mean to have good sleep quality? Let’s look at six common sleep myths that too many people believe with the hope of setting the record straight about sleep. The goal? To help you get a better night’s sleep and enjoy better health.
Myth #1: You can train yourself to need less sleep.
The idea that some people need less sleep is a myth. Most adults need 7-9 hours per night, regardless of age or gender. And despite what you might have heard on Tik Tok you can’t force or train yourself to need less sleep. Expert consensus recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Sleep Research Society, and the National Sleep Foundation consistently recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night for healthy adults.
Why is quality sleep and enough sleep important? Lack of sleep and poor-quality sleep have negative consequences for your health including elevating the risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Even if you don’t feel exhausted after a night you skimped on sleep, damage can still happen “under the hood.” Lack of sleep reduces insulin sensitivity. Plus, it causes hormonal disruptions that affect your metabolic health and increase the risk of health problems.
Myth #2: Snoring is harmless.
Loud, frequent snoring is not normal. It’s also not something you should ignore. Snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, a common condition, particularly among people who are middle-aged or older, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Untreated sleep apnea raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you have frequent snoring, talk to your doctor, so you can rule out sleep apnea.
Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Anatomical abnormalities in the mouth or nose
- Hormonal shifts
- Endocrine disorders
- Genetic diseases
Don’t ignore the signs of sleep apnea. If you don’t treat this condition, it can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and boost the risk of early mortality. Take snoring seriously.
Myth #3: Insomnia is just having trouble falling asleep.
Insomnia manifests in diverse ways – difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, or experiencing unrefreshing sleep. It can also be acute (come on suddenly or be short lived) or chronic (persistent and long-term). Each form of insomnia has different biological mechanisms and may have different treatments.
Factors that contribute to all forms of insomnia include stress, environment, medication, health conditions, and genetics. Usually, difficulty falling asleep is easier to treat than problems staying asleep or awakening too early. So, insomnia encompasses more than struggling to drift off into dreamland.
Myth #4: You can catch up on lost sleep.
Who doesn’t love sleeping in on weekends? Yet science suggests our bodies don’t reap the full benefits of weekend sleep-ins. A few extra hours of sleep on the weekend may offer a short-term alertness boost. But those additional hours fail to reverse the full effects of ongoing sleep deprivation.
Research shows weekend catch-up sleep doesn’t fully counter the negative metabolic changes you get when you don’t sleep well. And any gains reverse once resuming the same sleep-deprived schedule. Also, shifting weekday and weekend sleep timing disrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythms and can make it harder to sleep on weekdays.
The bottom line? While weekend catch-up sleep may provide modest and short-lived benefits, it doesn’t fully reverse the negative health impacts of insufficient weekday sleep. No weekend sleep-fest can substitute for regularly getting 7-9 nightly hours. Your best bet is developing good sleep habits for the long haul, by practicing good sleep hygiene habits. Make weekday sleep a priority by going to bed at a set time each night, so your body adapts to your sleep schedule. Your mind and body will thank you.
Myth #5: As we age, we need less sleep.
Adults still need 7-9 hours of sleep per night as they age. However, sleep patterns and sleep quality often change with age. Common issues include trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, waking too early, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
What causes these age-related sleep changes? Here are some factors:
- Changes in Circadian Rhythms: Shifts in your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms can cause you to wake up earlier.
- Decreased Melatonin Levels: Melatonin production declines with age. Since melatonin helps you fall asleep, this drop can cause sleep issues.
- Increased Fragmented Sleep: Sleep quality declines with age and becomes more fragmented.
- Medical Conditions: Medical conditions, related to aging, and chronic pain, can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
- Medications: Some prescription medications disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle and can cause sleep disturbances.
If your sleep patterns are changing, talk to your doctor about it. If medications are disrupting your sleep, they may recommend taking them at a different time of day or substituting another medication that doesn’t affect your sleep pattern the same way.
Myth #6: Watching TV helps you fall asleep.
Watching television before bed makes it harder to fall asleep. TV stimulates your brain. It also delays the production of sleep hormones like melatonin. Give the tube (and your mind) a rest. Instead, adopt a relaxing pre-bed routine – take a bath, read a book, listen to calm music. These practices cue your body that it’s time for sleep.
Dispelling myths about sleep is the first step to understanding healthy sleep habits. Know how much sleep you need, keep a regular sleep schedule, create a sleep-friendly environment, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about how you’re sleeping. With healthy sleep habits, you’ll sleep better and feel better.
Don’t Believe These Sleep Myths
Dispelling common myths is the first step toward understanding healthy sleep habits. Focus on keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule, creating an environment conducive for rest, and discussing any issues with your doctor. With healthy lifelong sleep habits, you’ll be on your way to feeling more energized and better overall.
- Robbins R, Grandner MA, Buxton OM, Hale L, Buysse DJ, Knutson KL, Patel SR, Troxel WM, Youngstedt SD, Czeisler CA, Jean-Louis G. Sleep myths: an expert-led study to identify false beliefs about sleep that impinge upon population sleep health practices. Sleep Health. 2019 Aug;5(4):409-417. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2019.02.002. Epub 2019 Apr 17. PMID: 31003950; PMCID: PMC6689426.
- Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study | News | The Harvard Crimson. Thecrimson.com. Published 2023. Accessed February 6, 2024. thecrimson.com/article/2022/10/17/sleep-study-article/
- Robbins R, Grandner M, Buxton OM, Girardin Jean-Louis. Sleep myths: an expert-led study to identify false beliefs about sleep that impinge upon population sleep… ResearchGate. Published April 2019. Accessed February 6, 2024. researchgate.net/publication/332474683_Sleep_myths_an_expert-led_study_to_identify_false_beliefs_about_sleep_that_impinge_upon_population_sleep_health_practices.
- Consensus Conference Panel; Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, Bliwise DL, Buxton OM, Buysse D, Dinges DF, Gangwisch J, Grandner MA, Kushida C, Malhotra RK, Martin JL, Patel SR, Quan SF, Tasali E; Non-Participating Observers; Twery M, Croft JB, Maher E; American Academy of Sleep Medicine Staff; Barrett JA, Thomas SM, Heald JL. Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. J Clin Sleep Med. 2015 Jun 15;11(6):591-2. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.4758. PMID: 25979105; PMCID: PMC4442216.