We all know that sleep is absolutely critical to feel your best, look your best, and perform at your best—every day. Quality and quantity sleep take front and center stage, along with the other major health players: lots of whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, sixty minutes of exercise every day, fresh air, clean water, and an uplifting outlook on life.
Sleep is important—that much we know. Yet there is lots of confusion about our bodies’ sacred time to rest, recuperate, and reenergize. Sometimes confusion is harmless; sometimes it is dangerous.
Here are 7 myths about your daily zzzzzzzzzz’s:
1. Myth: Snoring may be annoying to a sleep partner, but it is never harmful.
Fact: Snoring may be harmless, but it can also be a symptom of a life- threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea, especially if it is accompanied by severe daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea, or pauses in breathing while sleeping, preventing air flow, reduces oxygen levels and strains the heart and cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. People with sleep apnea awaken frequently during the night. Obesity can contribute to sleep apnea.
Solution: Lose weight and, if you suspect sleep apnea, get it checked out. It is treatable. Newer, medical advancements can assist in getting a good night’s sleep.
2. Myth: You can “cheat” on the amount of sleep you get.
Fact: Sleep experts say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health, and safety. When we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to “pay back. ” The result: sleep deprivation, linked to obesity, high blood pressure, mood swings, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.
Solution: Put your body and health first and get to bed early enough for your eight hours of rest.
3. Myth: Insomnia means difficulty falling asleep.
Fact: Difficulty falling asleep is only one of the four symptoms associated with insomnia. The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, frequent awakenings, and waking up feeling unrefreshed. Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other health problems. According to a recent National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll, 58% of adults in this country reported at least one symptom of insomnia in the past year.
Solution: Daily exercise, loading up on lots of whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding or eliminating stimulants from the diet, such as caffeinated drinks, chocolate, and refined sugar foods and drinks. When insomnia symptoms occur more than a few times a week and impact a person’s daily lives, the symptoms should be discussed with the appropriate health care provider.
4. Myth: Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression are unrelated to the quantity and quality of a person’s sleep.
Fact: Studies have found a direct relationship between sleep and many health problems. Insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity. As the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. Blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle. However, interrupted sleep can adversely affect this normal decline, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Insufficient sleep impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, leading to the onset of diabetes.
Solution: Losing weight and building up health with whole fruits and vegetables, reducing fat-loaded foods, such as meat, cheese, and hydrogenated fats found in many processed foods, 60 minutes of daily exercise, and avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, chocolate, and white sugar found in drinks and foods.
5. Myth: The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.
Fact: Just like most adults, people over the age of 65 need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. While sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of sleep we need generally does not. In fact, National Sleep Foundation’s 2003 Sleep in America poll found that older adults typically do not sleep less than their younger counterparts, but an average of seven hours. Poor health, not age, is a major reason why many older people report sleep problems.
Solution: Building healthy, lifelong habits every day is a must to getting a good night’s sleep and enjoying life as a senior. Daily walking, deep-breathing and stretching exercises, spending time with family and friends, and jumping into a hobby can contribute to a good night’s sleep. Eat the best-for-you foods and avoid caffeine, refined and processed foods, and fatty/oily foods. Napping in the very early afternoon, noonish, is less likely to interfere with sleeping at night. And, of course, get down to your ideal body weight.
6. Myth: During sleep, your brain rests.
Fact: The body rests during sleep. However, the brain remains active and gets “recharged. ” During sleep, you drift between two sleep states, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM, in 90-minute cycles. Non-REM sleep, when our minds can still process information, has four stages with distinct features, ranging from stage one drowsiness, when one can be easily awakened, to “deep sleep” stages three and four, when the most positive and restorative effects of sleep occur. REM sleep is an active sleep where dreams occur and eyes move back and forth under the eyelids.
7. Myth: 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.
Fact: If you wake up in the middle of the night, relaxing imagery or thoughts may help to induce sleep more than counting sheep, which may be more distracting than relaxing. Most experts agree that if you do not fall back asleep within 15-20 minutes, 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. The bed should be associated with sleep and sex only.
By Dr. Narinder Duggal and Dr. Leslie Van Romer, MD/DC Connect: “The Med-Free Solution”
Dr. Leslie Van Romer is a health motivational speaker, writer, and lifestyle coach. Visit http://www.DrLeslieVanRomer.com for more inspiration.