What are some myths about sleep?

There are several common myths about sleep, including the following1:

Myth 1: Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it isn't harmful.

Although snoring might be harmless for most people, for some it is a symptom of a life-threatening disorder called sleep apnea.2,3 People who snore and experience daytime sleepiness, one of the symptoms of sleep apnea, should be concerned about this disorder and speak with a health professional.

Those with sleep apnea have brief pauses in breathing that prevent air from moving in and out of their breathing passages. The pauses in breathing reduce blood oxygen levels and can cause cardiac and vascular damage, increasing a person's risk of cardiovascular disease.4

A person with sleep apnea will awaken frequently throughout the night gasping for breath, an action that disrupts sleep. Sleep apnea has also been linked to high blood pressure.5,6 Fortunately, snoring and sleep apnea can be treated. Both men and women who snore loudly, especially if there are pauses in their snoring, should consult a health professional to determine if they have sleep apnea.

woman sleeping in bed; text on bottom: 4 myths about sleepMyth 2: You can "cheat" on the amount of sleep you get.

Despite popular belief, when people are sleep deprived they are not able to regain lost sleep by sleeping more. With inadequate sleep, you accumulate a sleep debt that is impossible to repay as it becomes larger. In addition, long-term sleep deprivation contributes to several conditions involving health, safety, and mental outlook, as well as work performance. Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased worker productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.7

Myth 3: Daytime sleepiness always means a person isn't getting enough sleep.

Excessive daytime sleepiness, characterized by a feeling of extreme drowsiness and the urge to fall asleep quickly, can occur even after you have gotten enough sleep at night. It can be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as sleep apnea or a sleep disorder like narcolepsy. These problems are often treatable. If you have excessive daytime sleepiness after sleeping the recommended 7 to 9 hours, you should speak with your health care provider. Daytime sleepiness is dangerous because it can put you at risk for drowsy driving, injury, and illness. It can also impair mental abilities, emotions, and performance.

Myth 4: The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.

Sleep experts recommend 7 to 9 hours of sleep for most adults. While sleep patterns may change as we age, the amount of sleep the body needs does not usually change. Older people may awaken more frequently throughout the night and end up getting less sleep during the overnight hours. However, their need for sleep is not drastically less than that of younger adults. Older people may take more naps during the day because they get less sleep at night.

To learn more about these and other sleep myths, visit the National Sleep Foundation website at the following link: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/myths-and-facts-about-sleep External Web Site Policy.

  1. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Myths and facts about sleep. Retrieved May 20, 2012, from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/myths-and-facts-about-sleep External Web Site Policy
  2. Strollo, P. J., Jr., & Rogers, R. M. (1996). Obstructive sleep apnea. New England Journal of Medicine, 334, 99-104.
  3. Park, J. G., Ramar, K., & Olson, E. J. (2011). Updates on definition, consequences, and management of obstructive sleep apnea. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 86(6), 549-555.
  4. Lopez-Jimenez, F., Sert Kuniyoshi, F. H., Gami, A., & Somers, V. K. (2003). Obstructive sleep apnea: Implications for cardiac and vascular disease. Chest, 290(14), 1906-1914.
  5. Silverberg, D. S., Iaina, A., & Oksenberg, A. (2002). Treating obstructive sleep apnea improves essential hypertension and quality of life. American Family Physician, 65(2), 229-236.
  6. National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. (2011). National Institutes of Health Sleep Disorders Research Plan. Retrieved July 25, 2013, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/sleep/201101011NationalSleepDisordersResearchPlanDHHSPublication11-7820.pdf (PDF - 476 KB)
  7. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2009). At-a-glance: Healthy sleep. Retrieved May 30, 2012, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep_atglance.pdf (PDF - 1.81 MB)