Common Sleep Myths

Sleep Health recently e-published research based on analyzing over 8,000 websites about sleep, identifying common sleep myths. These are things that websites claim to be true that scientific sleep research shows are false. The article ranks them by scientific falseness.

(1) Here was the top one for falseness: “Being able to fall asleep ‘anytime, anywhere’ is a sign of a healthy sleep system.” In fact, it could mean that you are not getting enough sleep or restorative sleep. When that happens, the sleep drive is too strong during the day, a possible symptom of insomnia, periodic limb movement disorder, or sleep apnea, see #3, below. In some cases, falling asleep unexpectedly while active could be a symptom of narcolepsy.

(2) Another top myth I’ll call the Workaholic Myth: “Many adults need only 5 or less h of sleep for general health. Your brain and body can learn to function just as well with less sleep.” Now, you don’t want to get too hung up on 8 hours of sleep being the magic number – that can create unnecessary worry and stress. People can function, if not at their peak, for periods of time on less – think of sailors going solo around the world. At some point, though, they have to come back to shore and sleep longer.

In fact, long-term, cumulative sleep deprivation can cause physical problems, and impair cognitive functioning so that people are less productive at work. Consistency of sleep is important. Creating a consistent sleep/wake schedule is a key part of Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. For more information on this treatment, see .

(3) Another common and false myth is, “Although annoying for bed partners, loud snoring is mostly harmless.” In fact, regular loud snoring can indicate sleep apnea, a condition in which your throat collapses, stopping breathing during the night, and waking you out of a deep sleep. Sleep apnea can be mild, able to be treated with a dental device or positional therapy, or more serious, requiring a CPAP to keep your airway open and exercises to strengthen respiratory function. Sleep apnea can increase your blood pressure, and your risk of Alzheimer’s, stroke, and heart disease, as well as interfering with sex drive and erectile function.

(4) Another myth is, “Alcohol before bed will improve your sleep.” In fact, people who have been drinking can fall into a light sleep, but alcohol interferes with achieving deep sleep (called Stage N3 sleep). During deep sleep, the body heals and clears waste products from brain cells. Depression, inflammation, cardiovascular problems, and cognitive problems can all result from lack of this deep Stage N3 sleep. Without deep sleep, you’re in deep trouble!

Do you buy into any of these myths?

There was a 5th myth, which I think was the worst myth of all. I’ll save that for another post, since it deserves its own space.

Source: Robbins et al. (2019). Sleep myths: An expert-led study… Sleep Health.