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Blog Feature

By: Kevin Asp on August 10th, 2015

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10 Popular Sleep Myths, Debunked

Sleep Technologist Advice

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How many of these popular sleep myths have you actually considered as fact?

It wasn't until recently that sleep was taken less for granted. As we try to become more educated about sleep, it's important that we address the most common misconceptions first.

So ask yourself, how many of these statements have you heard and how many did you think were actually fact?

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1. Your brain shuts down while you sleep.

When we're sleeping, the brain does the opposite of shutting down. In fact, our brains are almost as active if not more active when we are asleep than when we are awake. Among the many things that happen while we are asleep, our brain sorts and processes information on what happened during the day to cement some of this information into our longterm memory. That explains why research has found that sleep is vital for learning and memory.

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2. You can train your body to function on less sleep.

If you force yourself to get out of bed a couple of hours early every day will your body eventually become accustomed to it? The answer is: unfortunately not. There is an ample amount of evidence that forcing yourself to sleep less than you need can have an adverse effect. We don't just simply adjust to getting less sleep. The short term side effecrs include a reduction in your concentration abilities, confusion and distress. And the long-term effects include a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

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3. Catching up on sleep during the weekend offsets the lack of sleep from the week before.

Making up for lost sleep over the weekend doesn’t work. Five brief nights can quickly add up to a shortfall of 20 hours, but people don’t sleep more than five to 10 extra hours to compensate. It is unclear whether you can make up a long-term sleep debt, because most studies have looked at the effects of sleep loss and recovery only over a few nights or weeks. But there’s no doubt that sleeping just four hours a night catches up to people within a few nights, leading to the side effects we discussed before.

The general interpretation is that you can't really pay off your sleep debt, but rather that you end up carrying it with you. So get some sleep while you can and avoid accumulating sleep debt.

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4. Spending more time in bed increases your chance of falling asleep.

Some people assume that if they spend more time in bed, they'll end up falling asleep faster and sleep longer. But this actually works against your plan of getting more shut-eye. Spending more time awake in bed boosts the negative association between bed and sleep, so experts suggest spending less time in bed to improve your ability to fall sleep.

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5. Daytime naps are a waste of time.

For those who have difficulty sleeping at night, it's usually recommended that you try avoid naps altogether. Recent studies have shown that naps in general are far more productive for us that we thought them to be. For instance, a study conducted by NASA found that those who took 26 minute naps experienced a boost in alertness and productivity as opposed to those who didn't.

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6. The brain adjusts quickly to changes in your sleep schedule.

Our internal body clock is set by when we get and don't get sunlight. This means we are at our most alert during the day. The time when we are the most sleepy is between midnight and dawn. But sometimes life happens and you're suddenly faced with a lifestyle change that requires you to be up at night rather than during the day.  So sometimes we need to change the times when we go to bed and get up and it takes some time for our brains to adjust to these changes.  Until we adjust, our sleep quality suffers and we don't function as well during the day.

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7. We need less sleep when we are older.

Our sleep needs are relatively stable throughout our lives. Children begin by needing plenty of sleep, but as they grow up get less and less sleep. Once they are young adults, the amount of sleep they need will stay the same for the rest of their life. And as we age, our sleep can become less efficient from body pains and aches but apart from this our sleep needs do not change significantly as we grow older.

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

A majority of sleep experts have recommended that teens get at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep on a daily basis. But because many schools begin classes early in the morning, teenagers find themselves feeling drowsy or even falling asleep because their biological clocks are set in a way that their bodies want to be asleep. As a result, many teens come to class too sleepy to learn.

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9. Regular snoring is normal.

Frequent snoring is actually a common problem that can be a symptom of a serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. (We've written about the significant health risks sleep apnea poses here.)  Snoring on a regular basis has also been directly associated with hypertension. The good news is sleep apnea is a treatable condition with several therapy methods.

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10. It's probably the stress that's keeping you up at night. 

Stress can definitely make it harder for you to fall sleep. But stress isn't the only common reason that some people have difficulty falling asleep. Other causes include a variety of poor sleep habits, medical and psychological issues and should be also explored as a cause of your difficulty falling asleep.

Sleep technologists, what are some other sleep myths that you have encountered?

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