Good Night, Sleep Tight (p.26)|
Debunking Common Sleep Myths
By Brent Brandow
Getting a restful sleep is something we all aim for each night. Research proves that sleeping well at night leads to higher productivity levels and a greater sense of well-being during the day. But all too often, sleep problems cause many of us to wonder whether or not we should seek professional help. Here, I delve into four top sleep myths and discuss ways to improve overall sleep health, including meeting with a board-certified sleep expert.
MYTH #1: GETTING EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP
One of the most common sleep myths says that everyone needs to sleep eight hours each night – but that is simply not the case. Some people function perfectly fine with six to seven hours a night, while others, especially growing children, need nine hours or more to fully function. It all depends on the individual. The problem occurs not when people are not sleeping for eight hours each night, but rather when they are waking up tired and are sleepy throughout the day, regardless of how much they have actually slept. It is more important to have that quality of deep sleep than to sleep for long periods of time; it is a simple issue of quality vs. quantity. When this exhaustion occurs, regardless of the quantity of sleep, something else likely could be going on. That is where a board-certified sleep specialist can help.
MYTH #2: REGULAR PRESCRIPTION USE IS OK
While over-the-counter medications are intended to treat occasional sleep problems, they are not a long-term solution; they merely mask deeper issues. The same goes for drinking a few glasses of wine before bed. People often feel that they need to take something to knock themselves out at night, but this could be a sign of a larger problem. There is a difference between getting a restful night's sleep and taking over-the-counter medication or drinking in excess. Taking something occasionally is fine, but if it is occurring every night, then a larger problem could be at play.
MYTH #3: MAKING UP FOR LOST SLEEP
There is a myth that people can catch up on missed sleep on the weekends, when they are less busy. But there really is no such thing as catching up on sleep – you miss what you miss and get what you get each night. That is why it is important to have a nightly routine that ideally includes eating as early as possible and going to bed around the same time each night. The goal is to create consistency.
MYTH #4: SLEEP DEPENDS ON AGE
There exists a common misunderstanding of how much sleep is needed at each stage of life. Over time, people's sleep times may change, but they still need the same amount of sleep. So seniors who go to bed earlier and wake up earlier still require an adequate amount of sleep to function well, while adolescents who generally go to bed later and wake up later also need that quality sleep time. It is a perfectly normal aspect of aging.
KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS
Some people ignore their sleep problems, believing it to be their lot in life and living with being sleepy virtually all the time. But that does not have to be the case. Common red flags for a real sleep issue include feeling exhausted throughout the day – which can seep into every aspect of a person's life if left untreated – and snoring or gasping for air in the middle of the night. Often, spouses notice sleeping issues related to snoring first, since the sleepers themselves rarely realize that they are lacking oxygen and losing a restful night's sleep as a result. In fact, many clients who come in to sleep centers are encouraged by their spouses.
TIPS FOR BETTER SLEEP
There are some very simple things people can do to get their sleeping patterns back on track. These include:
– Eat early. This gives the body time to digest before bedtime.
– Keep the same bedtime each night. This creates a routine and gets the brain into a pattern of knowing when it is time to sleep.
– Keep electronics out of the bedroom. When your head hits the pillow, it should be to go to sleep, not to check email or watch TV.
– Exercise regularly. Even for those who lack the time to exercise, moving around still is necessary. This includes going for a walk at lunch or after dinner.
– Get some sun. Melatonin is produced naturally in the body as a direct result of being in the sun, and it helps tremendously for getting a restful night. Even just a little bit helps.
– Avoid caffeine. Often people with sleep problems don't realize how much caffeine they are consuming at night, from coffee or soda after dinner to choclate for dessert. Even those who fall asleep after consuming caffeine at night are not getting as restful of a sleep as they can, since their brains likely are going into overdrive.
– Live healthfully. A healthy lifestyle can do wonders for everything in life, including sleep. Many health issues people have can be solved simply by adopting a better diet and exercise routine, and by getting a good night's sleep.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For those who have concerns about their sleep patterns, sleep specialists can help. A consultation does not necessarily involve a sleep study; rather, it is more likely to involve a 30-minute consultation with a sleep professional, who will take down important information related to a patient's diet and lifestyle habits. Sometimes it is simply a matter of adjusting medications or practicing better sleep hygiene, the standard procedure you follow before going to bed each night.
According to the American Sleep Association, more than 70 sleep disorders exist today, so a consultation is highly beneficial, if only to rule out anything from sleep apnea to narcolepsy to restless leg syndrome. We tend to put sleep problems low on our priority lists, but this shouldn't be the case. With a solution to sleep problems, you can experience more restful nights and a healthier life.
Brent Brandow is director of operations for Parkway SleepHealth Centers, a Cary-based comprehensive sleep health center and leader in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, providing all-inclusive health management services in an effort to address and improve individual sleep behavior for adults and children suffering from different kinds of sleep disorders.