Unraveling The Myths About Lack Of Sleep
Unraveling The Myths
About Lack Of Sleep
There are many common myths about sleep. âSometimes they are characterized as old wivesâ tales, but other times the incorrect information can be serious and even dangerous,â said David Oberg, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Danbury Hospital. In conjunction with the National Sleep Disorders Center in Washington, D.C., the Sleep Disorders Center at Danbury Hospital would like to dispel the following myths about sleep:
MYTH: Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it is not harmful.
Although snoring may be harmless for most people, it can be a symptom of a life-threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea, especially when accompanied by several daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing that prevent air from flowing into or out of the sleeping personâs 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 the snoring are noted, should contact a physician.
MYTH: You can âcheatâ on the amount of sleep you get.
Sleep experts say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health, and safety. When we donât get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to âpay backâ 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 behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.
MYTH: Turning up the radio, opening the window, or turning on the air conditioner are effective ways to stay awake when driving.
These âaidsâ are ineffective and can be dangerous to the person who is driving while feeling drowsy or sleepy. If youâre feeling tired while driving, the best thing to do is to pull off the road in a safe rest area and take a nap for 15â45 minutes. Caffeinated beverages can help overcome drowsiness for a short period of time. It takes about 30 minutes before the effects are felt, however. The best prevention for drowsy driving is a good nightâs sleep the night before your trip.
MYTH: Teens who fall asleep in class have bad habits and/or are lazy.
According to sleep experts, teens need at least 8Â½ to 9Â¼ hours of sleep each night, compared to an average of seven to nine hours for most adults. Their internal biological clocks also keep them awake later in the evening, and keep them sleeping later in the morning. Many schools, however, begin classes early in the morning, when a teenagerâs body wants to be asleep. As a result, many teens come to school too sleepy to learn, through no fault of their own.
MYTH: Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep.
Difficulty falling asleep is but one of four symptoms generally associated with insomnia. The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, frequent awakenings, and waking up feeling unrefreshed. Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other medical or psychological/psychiatric problem, and can often be treated. According to the National Sleep Foundationâs 2002 Sleep in America poll, 58 percent of adults in this country reported at least one symptom of insomnia in the past year. When insomnia symptoms occur more than a few times a week and affect a personâs daytime functions, the symptoms should be discussed with a doctor or other health care provider.
MYTH: Daytime sleepiness always means a person is not getting enough sleep.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is a condition in which an individual feels very drowsy during the day and has an urge to fall asleep when he/she should be fully alert and awake. The condition, which can occur even after getting enough nighttime sleep, can be a sign of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. These problems can often be treated, and symptoms should be discussed with a physician. Daytime sleepiness can be dangerous and puts a person at risk for drowsy driving, injury, and illness and can impair mental abilities, emotions, and performance.
MYTH: Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression are unrelated to the amount and quality of a personâs sleep.
Studies have found a relationship between the quantity and quality of oneâs sleep and many health problems. For example, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity; as the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. Blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle; however, interrupted sleep can adversely affect this normal decline, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Research has also shown that insufficient sleep impairs the bodyâs ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. More and more scientific studies are showing correlations between poor and insufficient sleep and disease.
MYTH: The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.
Sleep experts recommend a range of seven to nine hours of sleep for the average adult. While sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of sleep we need generally does not. Older people may wake more frequently through the night and may actually get less nighttime sleep, but their sleep need is no less than younger adults. Because they may sleep less during the night, older people tend to sleep more during the day. Naps planned as part of a regular daily routine can be useful in promoting a wakefulness after the person awakens.
MYTH: During sleep, your brain rests.
The body rests during sleep; the brain, however, remains active, gets ârechargedâ and still controls many body functions including breathing. When we sleep, we typically drift between two sleep states, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM, in 90-minute cycles. Non-REM sleep has four stages with distinct features, ranging from stage one drowsiness, when one can be easily awakened, to âdeep sleepâ stages three and four, when awakenings are more difficult and where the most positive and restorative effects of sleep occur. Even in the deepest non-REM sleep, however, our minds can still process information. REM sleep is an active sleep where dreams occur, breathing and heart rate increase and become irregular, muscles relax, and eyes move back and forth under the eyelids.
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.
Waking 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 15â20 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.
Opened in 1989 and accredited by the American Sleep Disorders Association since 1995, the Sleep Disorders Center at Danbury Hospital features board-certified physicians and registered sleep technologists who identify and treat sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and other sleep cycle disturbances.