Even though every single person on Earth sleeps every day, there is still a lot we don’t know about sleep. In recent years, advances in sleep research have opened eyes and changed minds about some of the things that were once believed to be hard and fast truths about sleep. The most important change has been uncovering and quantifying the link between sleep and health. Studies have shown that inadequate and/or low quality sleep can contribute to serious health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Sleep is as important to our health as the air we breathe, the food we eat, and how much exercise we get.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation floating around and being treated as fact about the importance of sleep and the impact of not getting enough. To help with this problem, let’s bust 4 of the most common myths about sleep.
1. I don’t need as much sleep as other people; I do fine with 4 or 5 hours a night.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, different people do need differing amounts of sleep each night. However, on average that variation is between 7 and 9 hours per night for adults. People who routinely sleep less than that are building up a sleep debt that can be very difficult to pay back. If you feel like you can function great on 4 hours of sleep, think how much better you could do if you were sleeping the full 8 hours you need.
2. If I could just get more sleep at night, I wouldn’t be so tired during the day.
For some people, excessive sleepiness during the day is a direct result of not getting enough sleep at night. But this is not always the case. Excessive daytime sleepiness, which the NSF characterizes as feeling drowsy all day and having the urge to sleep at inappropriate times, can be a sign of a serious sleep disorder or underlying medical condition.
3. I prefer over the counter sleeping pills because they are safer than getting a prescription sleep medication from my doctor.
Many people avoid using prescriptions sleep medications because of the fear of becoming addicted to them. This avoidance may keep them from discussing the sleep challenges they are experiencing with their doctor or medical professional. This can be a dangerous decision as problems sleeping can indicate a medical condition or sleep disorder and going without treatment can have serious health consequences. The best way to deal with sleepless nights is to talk to your doctor.
4. I don’t have insomnia; I can fall asleep just fine. My problem is that I wake up several times during the night and can’t always get back to sleep.
Many people believe that people with insomnia have problems falling asleep at night. While this is true, it is not the only symptom of insomnia. If you wake up too early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep, wake up again and again during the night, or wake up and feel like you haven’t slept, you might have insomnia. According to a variety of polls by the NSF half of adult Americans have one or more of these symptoms a few nights a week. If you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor.