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9 Myths About Sleep

Is what you know about sleep fact or myth?


“As a society, we are 24/7 and driven by productivity, our culture just doesn't want to go to sleep.”

-Amerlon Enriquez, M.D., Pulmonologist and Sleep Medicine physician with The Iowa Clinic. 

That's potentially devastating to our health, reported the documentary Sleepless in America, a collaboration by NatGeo, National Institutes of Health, and The Public Good Projects, which aired in December 2014.

According to the documentary, 40 percent of American adults are sleep-deprived; the average American sleeps less than seven hours per night during the week; and sleep is being “decimated” by our overworked, overstimulated, high-tech culture.

Dr. Enriquez believes once people understand how important sleep is to the body and brain, they'll make getting eight hours of sleep each night a priority.

“Studies indicate nearly 30 percent of Americans sleep less than six hours. That can increase risk of early death up to 12 percent.”

Amerlon Enriquez, M.D., The Iowa Clinic

Myth #1: Chronic sleep deprivation won't dramatically harm health.

Fact: Not getting your ZZZZZs can cause obesity, Alzheimer's disease, mental illness and depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and possibly even cancer, studies show.

“When you don't get enough sleep, your body releases a hormone that makes you feel hungry or not satisfied, so you're likely to eat more. When this happens day after day it can lead to obesity,” says Enriquez.

“Lack of sleep also causes insulin-resistance, which can lead to diabetes,” he says, adding that many mental illnesses include sleep problems.

Myth #2: A nap disrupts sleep at night.

Fact: Short naps lasting 15 to 30 minutes are good for you.

“Our normal circadian rhythm causes a dip (in energy) every afternoon sometime between noon and 3:00. A short nap, research shows, can improve functionality,” Enriquez says.

However, naps lasting more than 30 minutes produce a deeper level of sleep. Those are more difficult to awaken from, can leave you feeling groggy, and definitely make it harder to get to sleep at night.

Myth #3: You have more important things to do than sleep.

Fact: “In the 19th century people slept nine or 10 hours a night. Now we average just six or seven hours a night,” says Enriquez. “We have developed this thinking that sleeping is a waste of time when that's not true.”

Adequate sleep benefits your mental sharpness and mood. It provides the energy that allows you to accomplish more during the day. And — hear this — sleep helps you fight illnesses such as the common cold.

Myth #4: Some people do fine with less than 7 hours of sleep.

Fact: Most sleep experts agree that nearly everyone needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.

“Some people may function well with fewer than 7 hours of sleep, but that's not the norm,” says Enriquez. “That said, studies indicate nearly 30 percent of Americans sleep less than six hours. That can increase risk of early death up to 12 percent.”

How do you know if you're getting enough sleep? “If you constantly fall asleep within five minutes after your head hits the pillow, that can be a sign you're not getting enough sleep,” says Enriquez.

Myth #5: You can catch up on sleep on weekends.

Fact: “When you sleep deprive yourself, your sleep debt increases each day. You need to pay it back within the next day or so, not delay to the weekend,” says Enriquez.

The problem with “banking sleep” until the weekend is that sleeping in usually causes you to be awake later at night. Come Monday morning, you're apt to start the week already sleep deprived.

Myth #6: Driving when tired is okay as long as you drink plenty of caffeine.

Fact: Fatigue is the No. 1 cause of high-severity car crashes.

Although caffeine can help fight fatigue, it takes at least 30 minutes before it takes effect. “If you're awake for 17 or 18 hours straight, your reflexes are so slow it's as if your blood alcohol level were .05 percent. You're as good as drunk,” says Enriquez.

Myth #7: Teens don't need to sleep in like they do.

Fact: Staying up late and then wanting to sleep in is really not teenagers' fault, says Enriquez. Their physical-mental-behavioral “clocks” — called circadian rhythms — are to blame.

“Teens' circadian rhythms are delayed a bit. They don't usually feel sleepy until midnight or later, but then they don't want to get up in the morning. That's not a problem until they need to follow society's schedule for school or work,” he says.

According to Sleepless in America, studies show that high school students who sleep more have higher test scores and lower rates of depression.

To help teens achieve wakefulness in the morning (which helps them fall asleep earlier at night), Enriquez recommends sunlight or light therapy. This helps reset their circadian rhythm to be more alert earlier in the day.

Myth #8: Shift workers adjust to their work schedules.

Fact: According to Enriquez, “No one really gets used to shift work. Humans are diurnal creatures, meaning they are wired to be active in the daytime.”

But in our round-the-clock society someone has to work the graveyard shift. For those who do, these tactics will help improve the quality and duration of sleep:

  • When going home from work in the morning, try to avoid light, which stimulates wakefulness. Put dark sunglasses on.
  • When sleeping during the day, make sure the bedroom is cool and dark. Turn off your phone. Minimize all the things that can disrupt sleep.
  • When working at night, make sure you're exposed to light and that your work area is well lit.
  • If you're sleepy when working, using your break for a quick nap can really help.

Myth #9: You just have to live with your current sleep habits.

Fact: Many people have had poor-quality sleep for so long they believe nothing can ever change it. Not true, says Dr. Enriquez.

“Poor sleep habits can be very hard to break, but they can be broken. It starts with educating them on how important good sleep is, how it will benefit us in the long run,” he says.

The first step is to schedule a consultation and diagnostic evaluation with a Sleep Medicine physician at the West Lakes Sleep Center. Call 515-875-9555.

By arming you with the facts, The Iowa Clinic hopes you'll sleep better.

In 2009, The Iowa Clinic and UnityPoint – Des Moines formed a partnership to create the West Lakes Sleep Center – an eight bed state-of-the-art sleep center located at The Iowa Clinic's West Des Moines campus.

The West Lakes Sleep Center prides itself on providing excellent patient care. One way it is able to do this is by offering the convenience of an on-site durable medical equipment store (West Lakes Medical Equipment). Patients of West Lakes Sleep Center and West Lakes Medical Equipment boast an excellent compliance to PAP therapy – the most common form of treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

The national average for PAP compliance is 70%; patients of West Lakes Medical Equipment have averaged more than 89% compliance over the past three years:

  • 2012: 89%     • 2013: 88%     • 2014: 91%
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