Myth: To function best, you need to get eight hours.
Fact: There’s nothing magical about that number. Everyone has different sleep needs, and you’ll know you’re getting enough when you don’t feel like nodding off in a boring situation in the afternoon, says New York University psychologist Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman’s Guide to Sleep.
Myth: If you can get it, more sleep is always healthier.
Fact: You wish. Some studies have found that people who slept more than eight hours a night died younger than people who got between six and eight hours. What scientists don’t know yet
is whether sleeping longer causes poor health or is a symptom of it, says Najib Ayas, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia. Long sleepers may suffer from problems such as sleep apnea, depression or uncontrolled diabetes that make them spend more time in bed.
Myth: Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it isn’t harmful.
Fact: Although snoring may be harmless for most people, it can be a symptom of a life threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea, especially if it is accompanied by severe daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing that prevent air from flowing into or out of a sleeping person’s airways. People with sleep apnea awaken frequently during the night gasping for breath. The breathing pauses reduce blood oxygen levels, can strain the heart and cardiovascular system and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Snoring on a frequent or regular basis has been directly associated with hypertension. Obesity and a large neck can contribute to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be treated; men and women who snore loudly, especially if pauses in breathing are noted, should consult a physician.
Myth: You can ‘cheat’ on the amount of sleep you get.
Fact: Sleep experts say 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’ if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behaviour, decreased productivity and safety issues in the home, on the job and on the road.
Myth: 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: Waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep is a symptom of insomnia. Relaxing imagery or thoughts may help to induce sleep more than counting sheep, which some research suggests may be more distracting than relaxing. Whichever technique is used, most experts agree that if you do not fall back asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, you should 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.