7 Myths About Sleep
By Karen Springen
Stay up and read this tonight (you’ll thank us in the
1. To function best, you need to get eight hours.
There's nothing magic about that number. Everyone has different sleep needs,
and you'll know you're getting enough when you don't feel like nodding off in a
boring situation in the afternoon, says New York University psychologist Joyce
Walsleben, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman's Guide to Sleep .
2. If you can get it, more sleep is always healthier.
You wish. Some studies have found that people who slept more than eight hours a
night died younger than people who got between six and eight hours. What
scientists don't know yet: Whether sleeping longer causes poor health or is a
symptom of it, says Najib Ayas, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of medicine at
the University of British Columbia. Long sleepers may suffer from problems such
as sleep apnea, depression, or uncontrolled diabetes that make them spend more
time in bed.
3. Some people function perfectly on four hours of sleep.
Legendary short sleepers — including Bill Clinton, Madonna, and Margaret
Thatcher — don't necessarily do better on fewer Zs. "They're just not aware
of how sleepy they are," says Thomas Roth, Ph.D., sleep researcher at Henry
Ford Hospital in Detroit. Too little sleep is bad for your health and your
image: It can make you ineffective (it impairs performance, judgment, and the
ability to pay attention), sick (it weakens your immune system), and
overweight. In fact, women who slept five hours or less a night were a third
more likely to gain 33 pounds or more over 16 years than women who slept seven
hours, according to a Harvard Nurses' Health Study. Oddly, cutting too much
sleep and getting less than six hours is associated with the same problems as
sleeping too long: a higher risk of heart problems and death. And, of course,
cheating on sleep hurts you behind the wheel: "Wakefulness for 18 hours
makes you perform almost as though you're legally drunk," says
4. Waking up during the night means you'll be tired all day.
Au contraire: It might be our natural cycle. Many animals sleep this way, and
there are a lot of indications that our ancestors did, too, perhaps stirring
nightly to talk or have sex, says Thomas Wehr, M.D., scientist emeritus at the
National Institute of Mental Health. When 15 people in one of his studies lived
without artificial lights for a few weeks, they wound up sleeping three to five
hours, waking up for one or two, then sleeping again for four or more hours —
and they said they had never felt so rested.
5. You need prescription drugs if you have insomnia every
Sleep meds are designed for short-term sleep problems, caused by stressful
events like the loss of a job or taking a transatlantic flight. People with
longer-term problems benefit more from cognitive behavioral therapy —
essentially, retraining your perceptions of sleep and learning better sleep
habits, such as going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding TVs and
computers before bed, staying away from caffeine at least six hours before
sleep, and other lifestyle changes. In fact, in 2005, the National Institutes
of Health concluded that this type of therapy is as effective as prescription
drugs for short-term treatment of chronic insomnia. In many cases, a sleeping
pill may not even solve your sleep problem. "About half the people who
think they have insomnia may have anxiety or depression," says Daniel
Kripke, M.D., a University of California at San Diego sleep expert.