Misconceptions about Sleep

Misconceptions about Sleep

1. Snoring is a harmless, normal occurrence:
Truth: Snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea, which occurs in some people when their windpipe collapses and blocking airflow and waking the person. This can happen many times in the night. A lack of oxygen may cause physical problems.

2. We all need 8 hours of sleep:
Truth: Different people need different amounts of sleep. This amount needed is individually and biologically determined. Some feel rested with four to five hours a night; others need eight to nine.

3. Elderly people need less sleep:
Truth: Elderly people sleep less because of many reasons, but the lack of sleep need isn't one of them. Our ability to achieve undisturbed sleep for long periods decreases with age. As we age, we are more easily light, noise, and pain. We also tend develop health problems which may affect sleep quality, and take more medications which may cause sleep fragmented sleep. 

4. Sleep isn't an important part of our life:
Truth: Sleep is an imperative part of daily life. The average human living to the age of 70 will sleep approximately 23 years of their life.

Sleep is a crucial component of our physical and mental function. Deep sleep produces increased blood supply to our muscles which aids in tissue recovery and growth. In fact, human growth hormone, which is essential in growth and recovery, has its highest production (75%) in deep sleep (A quantitative Evaluation of the Relationships between Growth Hormone Secretion and Delta Wave EEG Activity during Normal Sleep and After Enrichment in Delta Sleep: C. Gronfier, et. al.: SLEEP, 19(10):817-824, 1996).

REM (or dream sleep) is an integral part of daily memory retention. PET scans show that metabolic activity essential for memory storage is significantly higher in REM sleep than in other sleep stages, or even wakefulness.

The same research has shown that there is a significant increase in REM sleep following intense periods of training and those individuals with the greatest increase in REM sleep perform best in memory retention tasks (The REM Sleep- Memory Consolidation Hypothesis: Jerome M. Siegel, SCIENCE: Sleep, Dreams, and Memory Review: VOL 294, 2 November, 2001) .

5. Sleep loss is a nuisance, but not a health issue:
Truth: Loss of sleep IS a nuisance which quickly leads to health issues. The human body has limits on sleep loss. When we're significantly sleep deprived we loose the ability to think rationally; we have mood shifts, depression, microsleeps, reduced perceptual skills, and the inability to handle complex tasks. During or working hours, we become less productive and may have microsleeps at inappropriate and often dangerous times. Eventually our sleep bank will either force us to pay back the lost sleep, or we begin to have reductions in our immunity to disease and viral infection. With a complete loss of sleep, the mind begins to deteriorate, taking the body along for the ride.

6. I can still drive even though I'm sleepy:
Truth: The National Sleep Foundation reports that each year on our highways at least 100,000 accidents and 1,500 fatalities are due to falling asleep at the wheel. (National Sleep Foundation, Drowsy Driving Fact Sheet, Washington, D.C.: National Sleep Foundation, October 24, 1995) . This number is a low estimate since accident investigators rarely document whether sleepiness was involved in the accident.

7. Sleep apnea isn't dangerous:
Truth: It has been estimated that more than 30 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea alone, not counting the millions of individuals with other sleep disorders. This means that 1 out of every 200 people have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea has also been shown to aggravate many existing health problems. In addition to daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea has been directly linked to high blood pressure and to increased chances of heart disease, stroke, and irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Yes, untreated sleep apnea can even kill.

8. Humans have always slept about 8 hours a night:
Truth: Thomas Edison believed that sleep was a "heritage from our cave days", and simply a waste of time. This shows in the fact that he routinely slept only three or four hours per night.

Different people need different amounts of sleep. Sleep need is determined by individual biological rhythms and neurochemical levels. However, we often allow society to dictate our sleep patterns.

Until the invention of the light bulb (1879), most people slept about 10 hours every night. When our daily activities were no longer reduced to daylight hours, our sleep habits changed. Now the myriad of distractions brought on by the invention of the light bulb include television, nighttime sports, and yes, the internet. Even though these things have made our life more productive and enjoyable, they can, and do, tend to reduce our sleep periods a great deal.

Edison was able to instill his view of sleep for all the generations to come by simply inventing a light bulb. [By the way, Edison took frequent daytime naps.]

9. Women do not get sleep apnea:
Truth: While it is a fact that more men have sleep apnea than women, this is not always the case.

Obesity women who snore or those with equal to or greater than a 16" neck circumference have a higher likelihood of having sleep apnea. Also, post-menopausal women, include women who have undergone hysterectomies, have a significant increase in their chanced of having sleep apnea.

There are also multiple contributing health factors, such as hypothyroidism, which can lead to the presence of sleep apnea.