Sleep and Emotional Wellness

Better Sleep Month: Busting 5 Common Sleep Myths

May is Better Sleep Month, so there’s no better time to bust some common sleep health myths. Dr. Charles R. Davies, expert in sleep medicine and the cognitive effects of sleep disorders at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, sets the record straight.

Myth #1: Snoring is harmless…

While you may think snoring is simply an annoyance to your sleeping partner, it can also be a sign of a more dangerous underlying condition: sleep apnea.

“If you’re snoring and your bed partner is telling you they noticed you’re pausing or having stoppages of breathing during sleep, or you yourself are waking up gasping and choking, short of breath, or you’re feeling tired during the day,” states Dr. Davies, “then snoring could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, which is a very serious condition that should be addressed.”

Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. The first step in addressing potential sleep apnea is to inform your primary care provider (PCP) of your symptoms. Your PCP may refer you to a sleep specialist, who’ll assess your condition and perhaps prescribe that you undergo a sleep study. “If that’s positive [for sleep apnea], then certainly you would go on to have it treated,” adds Dr. Davies.

Myth #2: You can get by on little sleep…

Staying up too late or tossing and turning is likely to make you sleepy the next day, but does it really have long-term consequences on your health? The truth is, people do need at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you’re not getting that much sleep, it can throw the hormones that control hunger off balance.

“By not getting enough sleep each night, at least seven hours, your hormones are imbalanced, causing you to be hungrier. That, of course, can lead to increased caloric intake, which then increases the chance for obesity, and thus diabetes. And, an increase in weight and obesity also puts you at higher risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea,” explains Dr. Davies.

Myth #3: As you get older, you really don’t need as much sleep…

One reason this myth may have persisted is that as people age, those age-related aches and pains can keep them up at night. But, no matter your age, you do need those seven to nine hours each night.

“It is true that people, as they get older, may not be able to stay asleep as well as they did when they were younger, but it does not mean they don’t need as much sleep,” cautions Dr. Davies. “Unfortunately, in the case of somebody with chronic pain, they may not be able to get as much sleep because of that pain. The recommendation would be to address the chronic pain with your doctor and work together to try and minimize the pain issues so you can get at least seven hours of sleep each night.”

Myth #4: As long as you get the recommended amount, it doesn’t matter when you sleep…

Shifting your sleep schedule to fit your needs may seem acceptable if you get the recommended seven to nine hours. But, continually shifting your sleep schedule can throw off your ability to sleep. As Dr. Davies puts it, your natural circadian rhythm may become “confused,” and you risk losing the ability to fall asleep when you want.

For example, if you’re going to bed at 10:00 p.m. some nights and 3:00 a.m. other nights, you may find it’s more difficult to fall asleep the next time you wish to go to bed at 10:00.

“Another danger is that when your circadian rhythm is shifting, it’s actually reducing a very important hormone that’s made in our brains called melatonin, which helps promote good quality sleep,” notes Dr. Davies.

Myth #5: It’s possible to “make up” for lost sleep…

How many times have you yearned for the weekend to sleep in and “catch up” on lost sleep from the week prior? While it’s not permanently harmful to miss some sleep occasionally, chronic sleep deprivation can’t be made up.

“With very short-term sleep deprivation, you can make up the sleep. But what you don’t want is to be trying to survive, for example, on less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights and then assume you can catch up on your sleep on the weekends. That’s just not a good idea.”

To listen to the full interview with Dr. Charles R. Davies on our new Allied and Well podcast, click here.

  • Need tips for better sleep habits? This article from the Memorial Health System offers advice.
  • Wonder what your sleep position might say about your health? Listen to this podcast from our friends at Riverside Healthcare.
  • Read these “bed-er” sleep rules from our partners at Springfield Clinic.
  • Adults aren’t the only ones who need sleep – read why young children need quality sleep in this article from the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System. And discover how to help your baby slumber better in this blog piece from OSF HealthCare.

Dr. Charles R. Davies, expert in sleep health at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

Leave Us Your Thoughts