Debunking Common Sleep Myths
The “rules” for getting a good night’s sleep are endless: Get a solid eight hours every night; Don’t eat before bed; Avoid caffeine after two in the afternoon—you know exactly what I’m talking about. But you’re probably also wondering if all of these little tips hold any truth to them.
Is it really that bad if I get only six hours of sleep every night, even if I’m not tired? Will losing weight really help me stop snoring?
At the end of the day, it becomes difficult to determine what’s actually true and what we should completely ignore.
To help clarify, here are some common sleep myths, debunked:
- Only obese individuals can have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). According to Dr. Richard Friedenheim, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Abington Memorial Hospital, this isn’t necessarily true. “While OSA is more common in those with high body mass indexes, thin patients may also experience this type of sleep apnea too.” He says this is due to the fact that the physical bone relationships of the facial bones in some individuals may cause them to have an obstructive breathing pattern.
- Losing weight eliminates the need for a CPAP machine. To some degree, this depends on the patient population. “For example, among those undergoing surgical weight reduction for bariatric surgery, about 25 percent of those with severe OSA are cured of their condition after losing the necessary weight, while 50 percent will need less CPAP pressure,” says Dr. Friedenheim. Losing weight may certainly maximize your chances of not requiring a CPAP and it’s also beneficial for your overall health.
- You absolutely need seven to nine hours of sleep. While this is true for the average person, some people simply require three to four hours of sleep a night, and others need 12 or more hours a night. Speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist to find out if your body runs better on more or less sleep.
- The more sleep you get, the better. Not necessarily. As long as you get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night (or whatever the amount of time your body requires), the type of sleep is what’s most important. Dr. Friedenheim says, “If the patient has very fragmented sleep with severe interruptions in sleep architecture and this occurs for nine hours, another person with seven hours of uninterrupted sleep may be better off.” Aim for quality sleep and at least the recommended hours of sleep.
- A lot of REM (dreaming sleep) is mandatory. During an entire night of sleep, a normal person spends 15 to 25 percent of the night in REM or dreaming sleep. “However, many people who get less than 15 percent may feel perfectly refreshed in the morning,” said Dr. Friedenheim. “So if it were absolutely mandatory, these individuals would be tired during the day.”
- Sleep promoting medications are necessary to treat insomnia. Not always. “Only 10 to 15 percent of insomniacs will require some type of sleep promoting medication,” said Dr. Friedenheim. For those who are unable to fall asleep within 20 to 25 minutes, leaving the bedroom and engaging in a thoughtless task such as folding laundry or reading may help promote sleep. Avoid using bright electronics since they will make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Exercise promotes good sleep. This theory is true, as long as you don’t exercise within three hours of bedtime, since this may interfere with falling asleep quickly.
- Naps will help you sleep better. The answer is both yes and no. If you missed sleep during the night, napping for an hour or two during the afternoon when you’re most exhausted may help reduce your sleep debt. However, if you nap for too long, it may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. “I would only recommend naps to certain populations, such as the elderly and narcoleptics,” says Dr. Friedenheim. “If you’re taking naps frequently during the day, it may be a sign of some underlying cause.”
- Quality sleep is best achieved by using the bedroom only for intimacy and sleep. True. According to Dr. Friedenheim, the bedroom should be comfortable and dark, and pets and TV should be banned from the room. It’s also important to allow yourself time to wind down at the end of the day before bed to “turn off your brain.”