10 Myths About Sleep

Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the  daytime and too sleepy to worry at night.
~ unkown

1. “Snoring Is Just A Harmless Nuisance”

Yes, snoring can be very annoying indeed but it is actually an important sign of obstructive sleep apnea a very common sleep disorder. This condition is characterized by repeated pauses in breathing that prevent air flowing into a sleeping person's lungs. It is a serious risk for heart disease and causes daytime sleepiness. If you do snore, take our online quiz to see if you are at risk.

2. “Alcohol Helps Me Sleep So Much Better”

Being a sedative, alcohol may make you fall asleep faster, but it has a harmful effect on sleep quality that far outweighs this benefit. You actually get less deep sleep, wake up more during the night and you're more likely to snore and experience sleep apnoea.

3. “Now that I’m older, I don’t need as much sleep”

As children, many of us had grandparents who always seemed to be up at the crack of dawn, cleaning the house and making a glorious breakfast. It seemed as if older people didn't need much sleep somehow.

This memory overlooks a couple of things: Grandma and Grandpa were probably in bed by 9 P.M., usually disappeared in the early afternoon to take a nap. In truth, older people need just as much as sleep as younger adults. They may have trouble getting it because of changes in sleep pattern training the natural ‘body clock’ shifting to an earlier time but total need for sleep does not decrease much with age.

4. “ I Just Don’t Have Dreams – is this normal” ?

Everybody dreams, but not everyone remembers those dreams. Not being able to recall your dreams is perfectly normal and has no negative health effect. Whether or not you remember your dreams is determined by when you wake up in relation to having those dreams. If you wake up during or just after a dream, you're likely to remember it. If you want to try and remember them, one tip is to try to recall them the moment you wake up-letting time pass seems to function as an erase button on your mental VCR. Take a pen and pad on your nightstand and jot down notes about your dreams when you wake up - do this every night for a week and there's a good chance you'll start regularly recalling your dreams.

5. “I Can Get by Fine on 5 or 6 Hours of Sleep”

The majority of people need 7-9 hours a night but like any physiological function, a small fraction of people need more or less than this. Whilst it seems that most people these days seem think they fall in the latter category it is actually a very small percentage that can do this without any effect on their well-being. Only you will know how much sleep exactly you need to fill refreshed in the morning. Not getting this amount will cause a ‘sleep debt’ to accumulate and after a few days leads to irritability, decreased productivity and daytime drowsiness posing a real risk to your safety.

6. “You Can Learn to Get by on Less Sleep”

Unfortunately, there's no way to train the body to reduce its sleep requirement. Studies on chronic partial sleep deprivation (<5 hours sleep) found that people continue to get sleepier and their performance becomes more impaired the longer the ‘debt’ goes on. To meet that deadline or study for that exam you may be able to function on less sleep for a short time, but you will feel more tired, work less efficiently, and get less done in the day. Evidence is showing us that overall health is very much tied to sleep quality and quantity. This includes hypertension, heart disease, depression, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and can even affect your life span.

7. “I Just Don’t Get Any Sleep At All”

People with insomnia feel this often feel this was but studies have shown that not getting any sleep at all is extremely unlikely. Even in severe cases, people with insomnia typically get a few hours of sleep. We all tend to be poor judges of how long it takes us to fall asleep and how long we've slept. You may have experienced an occasion of intending a brief nap only to wake up several hours later, unaware of how much time has passed. This is because we don't experience the passing of time while asleep. Getting a sleep study is a scientific way of seeing how much and what quality of sleep you are getting. If you don’t feel that you are actually getting any sleep, you may have a sleep disorder – call SleepMed on 1300 484 707 to find out more.

8. “I Can Learn While Asleep Listening to Recordings”

If only…! There are a plethora of CD’s proclaiming to help you lose weight, learn fluent Spanish etc. but I've yet to see any solid research showing they're effective. Clouding the evidence is that getting a good night's rest can improve test performance and learning and it is probably this fact, not the tape content itself helping.

9. “ Napping Is a Bad Idea”

This really depends on the circumstances – if napping lead to getting less sleeping at night then it is not advisable. You want the main sleep period to be as long as possible.

The body’s ‘pull’ to fall asleep depends very much on when you were asleep last and how the closer to your usual sleep time, the less the tendency to want to sleep. People with insomnia , can get into a vicious cycle of getting less than six hours of sleep at night, leading them to feel sleepy during the day thus giving in and taking a long nap which leads to less propensity to sleep at night thus perpetuating the cycle.

Unless your safety is in danger and you need the nap to stay awake for the next few hours, you're usually better off toughing it out until your regular bedtime. In most other situations, though, naps are beneficial. For example, if you experience an occasional night of short sleep then a nap is a great way to replace your lost sleep. Many people whose sleep is curtailed by the morning alarm clock routinely squeeze in a short afternoon nap, and this is healthy.

10. “ Too Much Sleep Makes Me More Tired”

This is a common misconception. First, you can't get more sleep than your body needs. The homeostatic drive to sleep wears off as you sleep and stops exerting its pressure. In the morning, the circadian cycle (body’s natural ‘clock’) is in its alert phase, not its sleep phase. So if you continue to sleep, it's because you need more sleep.

In fact the grogginess that some people report is because they've been depriving themselves of sleep for several nights. A single night of extended sleep does not make up all of the sleep debt, so when they wake up, they're still sleep deprived and as a result don't feel refreshed.

Finally, if you extend your sleep into the afternoon you may wake up at a time on your circadian clock when it's natural to be sleepy, which may contribute to that groggy feeling. Don't let fear of feeling bad keep you from getting enough sleep. Listen to your body; it will tell you whether or not you need more sleep. If you're sleepy, you need more sleep.