Sleep: Myths vs. Facts
How much do you know about one of life’s most important activities? Here, the experts from the National Center on Sleep Disorder Research, a division of the National Institutes of Health, separate the facts from the myths and misunderstandings:
Sleep is a time when your body and brain shut down for rest and relaxation
False Although it is a time when your body rests and restores its energy levels, sleep is an active state that affects both your physical and mental well-being. Adequate restful sleep, like diet and exercise, is critical to good health. Insufficient restful sleep can result in mental and physical health problems and possibly premature death.
If you regularly doze off unintentionally during the day, you may need more than just a good night's sleep.
True. Many people doze off unintentionally during the day despite getting their usual night of sleep. This could be a sign of a sleep disorder. Approximately 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome. An untreated sleep disorder can reduce your daytime productivity, increase your risk of accidents, and put you at risk for illness and even early death.
If you snore loudly and persistently at night and are sleepy during the day, you may have a sleep disorder.
True. Persistent loud snoring at night and daytime sleepiness are the main symptoms of a common and serious sleep disorder, sleep apnea. Another symptom is frequent long pauses in breathing during sleep, followed by choking and gasping for breath. People with sleep apnea don't get enough restful sleep, and their daytime performance is often seriously affected. Sleep apnea may also lead to hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. However, it can be treated, and the sleep apnea patient can live a normal life.
Opening the car window or turning the radio up will keep the drowsy driver awake.
False. Opening the car window or turning the radio up may arouse a drowsy driver briefly, but this won't keep that person alert behind the wheel. Even mild drowsiness is enough to reduce concentration and reaction time. The sleep-deprived driver may nod off for a couple of seconds at a time without even knowing it–enough time to kill himself or someone else. Drowsy driving is cited in 56,000 reported accidents each year–claiming over 1,500 lives.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder marked by "sleep attacks."
True. People with narcolepsy fall asleep uncontrollably –at any time of the day, in all types of situations– regardless of the amount or quality of sleep they've had the night before. Narcolepsy is characterized by these 'sleep attacks,' as well as by daytime sleepiness, episodes of muscle weakness or paralysis, and disrupted nighttime sleep. Although there is no known cure, medications and behavioral treatments can control symptoms, and people with narcolepsy can live normal lives.