7 Myths About Sleep, Plus Tips for a Better Bedtime

Cynthia Ross Cravit | March 16th, 2018
sleep problems insomnia snoring

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ digitalskillet

In the ongoing quest for better sleep, we debunk some of the top myths about sleep, plus offer tips to help you get your forty winks.

Let’s face it, we’re exhausted.

Half of Canadians (43% men vs. 55 % women) say they have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, according according to the Canadian Health Measures Survey (2007 to 2013) from Statistics Canada.

Poor sleep is more than just feeling fatigued the next day. It can lead to a number of serious health problems, including an increased risk for obesity, stress and even diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

And that’s not all. Getting the right amount of sleep each night can also protect cognitive health and keep the brain years younger. A recent study found that middle-aged adults who slept less than six hours each night are more likely to experience cognitive decline. This decline in brain function is equal to being four to seven years older, according to researchers. (For more, see Smart Sleeping.)

Further, people who are sleep-deprived tend to be less satisfied with their lives overall — and getting a good night’s sleep has even been associated with better longevity. (See Poor Sleep and Unhappiness and  Sleeping and Longevity.)

So why aren’t we sleeping more? One of the biggest contributors to our collective sleep deprivation is our addiction to our devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops – which emit a blue light that tricks our brains into thinking it is daytime, thereby throwing  body’s circadian rhythm out of whack and suppressing melatonin production. Some experts say we should avoid electronics at least an hour before bedtime — or if you’re like me, unable to resist catching up on news or checking email one last time before lights out — you can use blue light-blocking glasses, which reduce the type of glare that can interfere with sleep. Even better, a  number of smartphones and tablets include blue-light filtering apps like Apple’s Night Shift, as part of their operating systems.  And check out free software, like Flux that adjusts the light of your computer to match the cycle of natural sunlight where you live, reducing brightness and blue light in the evening.

Other tips from theThe Canadian Sleep Society and Canadian charity, Sleeping Children Around the World to help you get that must-needed shut-eye:

-Go to bed at the same time every night

· Exercise in the early part of the day

· Wake up at the same time every morning

· Get out of bed if unable to sleep for 20 minutes

· Engage in relaxation or relaxing activities before bedtime

· Don’t go to bed if you’re not tired or sleepy

· Keep the room temperature cool


7 common myths about sleep*


Myth: As you get older, you need less sleep.

Fact: While not all researchers agree on the magical number for optimal sleep, many sleep experts maintain the average adult should get somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep. And while sleep patterns may change as people age — with many older people waking frequently throughout the night — the amount of sleep they need generally does not.

When it comes to the kids and grandkids, here’s a general rule of thumb:

— Children age 5 to 13 should get 9 to 11 hours of sleep

— Children age 14 to 17 are recommended to have 8 to 10 hours of sleep


Myth: Snoring, while a common (and potentially annoying) problem, is not harmful to your health.

Fact: Beyond being a potential irritation for your partner, snoring can be a symptom of a disorder called sleep apnea, which in turn is associated with other medical problems including a higher risk for heart problems, obesity and cardiovascular disease. (Find out more about the symptoms of sleep apnea.)


Myth: Insomnia means you have difficulty falling asleep.

Fact: This is partly true, but other symptoms can also be associated with insomnia, including:
— Waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep.
— Frequent awakenings.
— Waking up without feeling refreshed.

Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other medical, psychological or psychiatric problems. Keep in mind, however, that insomnia is treatable. If you have symptoms more than a few times a week or feel that they are affecting your daytime functioning, consult your doctor.


Myth: If you feel sleepy during the day it means you aren’t getting enough sleep.

Fact: Excessive daytime sleepiness can occur even if you got enough sleep the night before. This could be a sign of a medical condition or sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. If you’re experiencing symptoms on a regular basis, experts say to speak to your physician.


Myth: Your brain rests when you sleep.

Fact: The body rests during sleep, and while the brain gets recharged, it remains active and still controls many body functions including breathing. Even so, experts believe that sleep can be important for consolidating memories and helping with cognitive functioning.


Myth: If you wake up in the night, it’s best to stay in bed and try to fall back to sleep, or to lie there until you eventually fall back to sleep.

Fact: Waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back to sleep is a common symptom of insomnia. If this happens, try using relaxing imagery or thoughts to lure you back to sleep. If, however, you can’t fall to sleep within 20 minutes or so, many experts say you should get out of bed, go to another room, and engage in a quiet activity like listening to music or reading. Try not to watch the clock or worry about how tired you’ll be the next day. Return to bed only when you feel tired.


Myth: It may not be ideal — but you can get by with inadequate sleep.

Fact: Even if you think you’re used to a sleep-deprived lifestyle, your mental and physical health still suffers, say experts. As mentioned, inadequate sleep has been linked with serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, stress and depression. It could also affect mental alertness and cognitive abilities, and impair the immune system

The bottom line: If you get too little sleep, you create a sleep debt, which is something like overdrawing your bank account. And because our bodies don’t naturally adapt to getting less sleep, the debt eventually needs to be repaid. To enhance health and performance, we should all be investing in our sleep portfolio regularly.

But alas, it looks like most of us are in arrears.


*Source: the Cleveland Clinic.