April 5

Eight Myths About Sleep

The United States National Institutes of Health pinpoint common myths about sleep that including the following:

  1. People need less sleep as they get older. Older people don’t need less sleep, but they may get less sleep or find their sleep less refreshing. That’s because as people age, the quality of their sleep changes. Older people are also more likely to have insomnia or other medical conditions that disrupt their sleep.
  2. During sleep, your body and brain shut down for rest and relaxation. No evidence shows that any major organ (including the brain) or regulatory system in the body shuts down during sleep. Some physiological processes actually become more active while you sleep. For example, secretion of certain hormones is boosted, and activity of the pathways in the brain linked to learning and memory increases.
  3. Getting just one hour less sleep per night than needed will not have any effect on daytime functioning. This lack of sleep may not make someone noticeably sleepy during the day. But even slightly less sleep can affect the ability to think properly and respond quickly, and harm cardiovascular health, energy balance and the body’s ability to fight infections, particularly if lack of sleep continues.
  4. The body adjusts quickly to different sleep schedules. It can take more than a week to adjust to a substantial change in your sleep-wake cycle – for example, when traveling across several time zones or switching from working the day shift to the night shift.
  5. Extra sleep for one night can cure problems with excessive daytime fatigue. Not only is the quantity of sleep important, but also the quality of sleep. Some people sleep eight or nine hours a night but don’t feel well rested when they wake up because the quality of their sleep is poor. A number of sleep disorders and other medical conditions affect the quality of sleep. Sleeping more won’t lessen the daytime sleepiness these disorders or conditions cause.
  6. Lost sleep during the week can be made up by sleeping more on the weekends. Although this sleeping pattern can help a person feel more rested, it will not completely make up for the lack of sleep. This pattern also will not necessarily make up for impaired performance during the week or the physical problems that can result from not sleeping enough.
  7. Naps are a waste of time. Although naps are no substitute for a good night’s sleep, they can be restorative and help counter some of the effects of not getting enough sleep at night. But avoid taking naps later than 3 p.m., as late naps can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. Also, limit naps to no longer than 20 minutes because longer naps will make it harder to wake up and get back in the swing of things. One or two planned or unplanned naps during the day may signal a sleep disorder that should be treated.
  8. Snoring is a normal part of sleep. Snoring during sleep is common, particularly as a person gets older. But evidence is growing that snoring on a regular basis can make a person sleepy during the day and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Loud, frequent snoring also can be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that should be evaluated and treated.

The information in this Blog was adapted from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s “Your Guide to Healthy Sleep” which is available here.

Credit goes to the International Council on Active Aging to promote older adult wellness and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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