Myths and facts about sleep
Wednesday, 7 September, 2016
Myths and facts about sleep

Myths and facts about sleep

The National Sleep Foundation in Virginia, USA has recently published an article about sleep in order to shine the spotlight on some of the common myths they encounter. These myths are quite widespread and are often simply accepted as facts. Learn the truth about some of these issues below.

Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it isn’t harmful

It is true that snoring is a condition that is harmless for many. However for others snoring is a symptom of a condition known as Sleep Apnoea. Sleep Apnoea can actually be life threatening for sufferers as it causes pauses in breathing during sleep, which can limit air flow. This risks a reduction in blood oxygen levels and can strain the heart and cardiovascular system, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnoea include:

  • Snoring
  • Awakening and night gasping for breath
  • Day time sleepiness

If you want to check whether you are suffering from sleep apnoea, make an appointment at our practice, or read more about the condition.

You can "cheat" on the amount of sleep you get.

This is incorrect. The average adult requitres 7-9 hours sleep per night, and sleeping less than this amount of time can cause a "sleep debt" that can cause health issues if you don't "pay it back". Health issues can include:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Negative mood and behaviour
  • Decreased productivity
  • Safety issues at home, work and on the road due to tiredness and lapses in concentration

Turning up the radio, opening the window, or turning on the air conditioner are effective ways to stay awake when driving.

While these methods can assist momentarily, they are ineffective and can be dangerous for the driver. More effective methods would be to pull over into a rest area and take a nap for 15-45 minutes or to consume a caffinated beverage (which can assist for a shore period of time). However please note that the caffinated beverage is unlikely to take effect for about 30 minutes.

The best prevention of drowsing driving is to ensure a good night's sleep is had before a long trip.

Teens who fall asleep in class have bad habits and/or are lazy.

While quite possibly true in some cases, it may surprise many to learn that teens actually need more sleep than the average adult, requiring 8.5-9.25 hours on average. Their internal biological clocks also naturally keep them up later at night and sleeping later into the morning.

Because most schools begin classes early in the morning, when a teenager's body is sending signals that it wants to sleep, this is often a disadvantage for teens who can then come to school too sleepy to learn through no fault of their own.

Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep.

It is true that difficulty sleeping is a symptom of insomnia, but it is actually only 1 of 4 symptoms! The others include:

  1. Waking to early and not being able to fall back asleep
  2. Frequent awakenings during the night
  3. Waking feeling unrefreshed, even after a full night's sleep.

Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other medical or psychological/psychiatric problem. If you think you may be suffering, contact a relevant health care professional.

Daytime sleepiness always means a person isn't getting enough sleep.

Daytime sleepiness refers to the condition of a person feeling drowsy or tired during the day when there is little reason to (i.e. if they have had a full night's sleep). This may indicate a sign of sleep apnoea or narcolepsy.

Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression are unrelated to the amount and quality of a person's sleep.

The effect sleep (or lack there of) has on the body has been the subject of many recent studies and it has been found that there are quite a few relations.

For instance, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity; as the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. In addition, blood pressure decreases as a result of sleep, therefore insufficient sleep or interrupted sleep can hinder this process and risk hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Research has also shown that insufficient sleep impairs the body's ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. 

The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.

The general recommendation of 7-9 hours sleep does not change once and adult matures from their teenage sleeping requirements and patterns. What may change is the sleeping patterns. For instance, older people may wake more during the night and then potentially sleep less hours, however this time is often made up during subsequent daytime naps.

During sleep, your brain rests.

While the body rests, the brain certainly re-charges but also remains active to control breathing and heart rate. Even in the deepest non-REM sleep, our minds can still process information, however the deeper we are in this sleep, the more difficult we are to wake up from external distractions.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in bed, count sheep, or toss and turn until you eventually fall back asleep.

Waking and not being able to get back to sleep during the night is actually a symptom of insomnia. Relaxing imagery or thoughts may help to induce sleep more than counting sheep, which some research suggests may be more distracting than relaxing. Whichever technique is used, most experts agree that if you do not fall back asleep within 15-20 minutes, you should get out of bed, go to another room and engage in a relaxing activity such as listening to music or reading. Return to bed when you feel sleepy. Avoid watching the clock.


We hope that this information has been informative and thought-provoking. Are your sleeping habits and patterns up to scratch? Do you potentially need to see a medical profesional after showing certain symptoms?

Learn more about our Sleep Apnoea service that we offer within our practice.

Read the full article from The National Sleep Foundation.

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