7 Myths About Sleep
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.
6. You can make up for lost sleep on weekends.
Bingeing on Zs over the weekend and not sleeping during the week — what Harvard
sleep expert Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., calls "sleep bulimia" — upsets
your circadian rhythms and makes it even harder to get refreshing sleep.
Sleeping until noon on Sunday generally prevents you from hitting the sheets by
10 that night. So instead of correcting your deficit from the week before, you
set up a no-sleep cycle for the week to come. "The body loves
consistency," says Donna Arand, Ph.D., spokeswoman for the American Academy
of Sleep Medicine. Best to rise around the same time every day, even on
7. Tylenol PM is better than a prescription sleep med for an occasional
bout of insomnia.
Not if the bout lasts longer than a few nights, says Helene Emsellem, M.D., of
the Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, MD. Tylenol PM is no
better than a prescription drug for people who have trouble falling asleep, and
may be less effective than some prescription drugs, she says. The active
ingredient in Tylenol PM is an antihistamine, and its side effect is that it
makes you drowsy. Some have reported a greater possibility of feeling
"hung-over" after taking antihistamines than after taking prescription
drugs. If you do decide to take antihistamines, don't do it in the middle of
the night: They may stay active in your system for eight hours or more. Another
difference: Prescription sleep drugs are thought to allow you to go through all
stages of the sleep cycle; no word on whether antihistamines do the same.