Debunking Sleep Myths | Part 1

Updated: Jun 8, 2019

We spend one-third of our life sleeping. To put things into perspective, if you live to be 72, that’s astonishing 24 years or 210,240 hours spent asleep. Thus, it is important to talk about some myths and facts about sleep.

Myth 1: You can make up for the lost sleep

It is a common misconception that one can easily compensate for the lack of sleep on weekdays by sleeping in on weekends. While it might be true for short-term sleep loss, researches at Harvard University warn about the effects of long-term sleep deprivation.

A lack of sleep builds a sleep debt. If you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, you will suffer long-term consequences such as chronic fatigue, performance deficit, and safety risks. There is a great probability of developing numerous health conditions since chronic sleep loss has been linked to various physical ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, and memory loss.

Regular and sufficient sleep is vital for high cognitive performance. Both total and partial sleep deprivation have adverse effects on cognitive functions. Sleep deficit affects a person’s decision making and attention span. The drop in attention and working memory due to sleep deprivation is well established. Sleep loss impacts vigilance and has a detrimental impact on both reaction times and lapses. It narrows cognitive capacity by reducing cognitive flexibility and spontaneity, which are required for an excellent performance.

Speaking of the overworked and restless workforce, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, highlights that cutting back on sleep puts the employee, the team and the company in serious jeopardy, calling it “dangerous” and “an antithesis of intelligent management.”

Myth 2: People need less sleep as they get older.

As we age, our sleeping patterns change due to the shift in our circadian rhythm.

Sleep duration is at the lifetime maximum in infancy with newborn babies sleeping for 16 hours each day. It then drops through childhood and reaches 7 to 8 hours in adulthood. Some studies did provide evidence about sleep duration decreasing further from young adulthood into our old age, but this idea “remains controversial” since the elderly rest more during the day. As a result of this fragmented, poor quality sleep, the prevalence of several sleep disorders increases with aging.

Older people go to bed earlier and wake up more easily as they develop medical conditions (such as sleep and respiratory disorders among many more) that obstruct their sleep.

The elderly tend to nap more than younger individuals since their nighttime sleep is lighter and shorter. They wake up more often throughout the night and consequently, catch up on their zzz’s during the daytime.

Just because older adults might get fewer hours of shut-eye a night, it does not mean they need less sleep.

A loss of sleep is linked to Neurocognitive impairment, chronic health conditions, organ dysfunction, and increased mortality.

Myth 3: Snoring is normal

Around 50 % of adults snore at some point in their lives. Snoring is more common in gentlemen than it is in ladies, with roughly 40 percent of men and 24 percent of women being regular snorers. Men become less prone to snoring after the age of 70.

The most common causes of snoring are mouth anatomy, nasal problems, narrow airways, sleep position, sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, smoking, being overweight, and sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a life-threatening sleep disorder that occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the person’s airways resulting in loud snoring and heavy breathing during sleep. This condition prevents people from breathing properly and causes them to choke and wake up in the middle of the night, gasping for air. OSA interrupts breathing briefly and repeatedly throughout the night, leaving the patients out of breath and exhausted. If left untreated, it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Another type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea. It occurs when the brain fails to regulate breathing during sleep and is far less common than obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea affects the snorer as well as the person’s bed partner. Sleeping beside someone who snores is found to increase the blood pressure in the other person, and it causes sleep fragmentation that amounts to an hour of sleep loss a night.

Snoring is indeed very common, but it shouldn’t be considered “normal” since such belief fails to rule out sleep apnea and diminishes the gravity of this condition.

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