Busting The Top 10 Sleep Myths Wide Open

Sleep is the consummate target for myth creation. Whether it be curing insomnia with the latest snake oil - myth, or telling your child to stay awake so he'll be sleepy on your next road trip - myth. The themes and logical assumptions range from comical to tragic, and as we all know, there are so many out there circulating around the water coolers and clubs of this world. Below you can read about the most popular myths about a good night's sleep, and why they are absolute rubbish.

Myth 1: Sleep merely means to rest

Sleep is much more than just a period of rest; it is an essential time for the body to perform routine maintenance, creating long-term memories, and repairing damage from your day. Getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each day ensures your body and mind will function well the next day.

Myth 2: Sleep Is A Passive Event

Sleeping is not at all passive. The brain can be more active during dream sleep than it is in an awake state. Although the metabolic activity during dream sleep is high, it is essential in rejuvenation, memory rebuilding, and feeling refreshed.

Myth 3: The more I dream, the more tired I am.

It is well accepted that dream sleep is important to rejuvenation, and to feeling refreshed. All dreams, even nightmares, are good for people.

Myth 4: Losing an hour of sleep is no big deal.

When you get less sleep than you need, your ability to do certain cognitive and physical activities is greatly reduced. As sleep loss builds over time you develop a sleep debt. Having a sleep debt can interfere with hormones that monitor your appetite, change your moods and increase the risk of long term illness.

Myth 5: You can learn to get less sleep.

There is absolutely no way to “train” yourself to get less sleep. Research has shown that restricting a person to only 5 hours of sleep per night for a period of weeks can severely effect performance, impair judgment and cause mood swings. There have been studies done in the late 1980's that have linked chronic sleep debt with depressive disorders.

Myth 6: Naps are wasteful.

Naps are a great way to catch up on lost sleep. After taking naps people can accomplish cognitive tasks much quicker and feel refreshed. Naps are also an excellent way to train someone to fall asleep quicker, which is very beneficial to anyone with insomnia. It is worth noting that napping for longer than an hour or after 3pm can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.

Myth 7: There is such a thing as sleep “Catch up”.

Simply put, when you don't get the proper 7 to 9 hours of sleep, you are accumulating a sleep debt. On weekends it would seem ideal to wake up later to catch up on lost slumber. However, it is much more efficient and healthier to develop a daily schedule that allows you a consistent 7 to 9 hours per night.

Myth 8: Snoring is normal and indicates a state of deep sleep.

It's no surprise to know that snoring is very common, frequent snoring can be indicative of very serious sleep disorders. If someone has complained about consistent snoring, or noticed you are short of breath during sleep, you may have fallen victim to the disorder of sleep apnea. It would be very wise to head to a sleep specialist for a sleep evaluation. If you have sleep apnea there are many successful treatments that can help you sleep better and feel more refreshed during the day.

Myth 9: Children with less sleep will become more tired.

Children have very different metabolisms than adults. If you think that by making your child stay awake in order to tire him/her out for an upcoming trip, e.t.c... think again. Children without enough sleep have a tendency to produce an excess of adrenaline and can end up more energetic, even hyper-active from a lack of sleep. Sleep deficits in children have successfully been linked with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder). Furthermore, children with sleep apnea have been linked with poor school performance and lower sports and health activities. Put bluntly, children need an incredible amount of quality sleep.

Myth 10: Older people need less sleep.

Older people have a tendency to get less sleep than young and middle aged adults, but that does not mean they need less. The fact is that older individuals need the same amount of rest as the rest of us, only older people may not be able to achieve this easily due to lower melatonin levels circulating in the blood. This is why you may notice older people nap more throughout the day, as their bodies try to make up for the lack of sleep during the evening.

There you have it. My first Top 10 list. If you have any other myths that need dispelling, leave them in the comments, and I'll be sure to play myth buster and test the theories. As with sleeping itself, plenty of the most popular insomnia cures are also based on pure myth, just so you know. My mother used to say that well informed is well armed, and when it comes to curing a string of long, sleepless nights she was right on the money. The next time someone tells you that in order to fall asleep you should run naked in the woods or bathe in motor oil, check in to this site before you get arrested for streaking or catch fire. :)

Is Sleep Apnea A Silent Killer?

They say osteoporosis is a silent killer, as it's almost impossible to detect until the damage is done to your bone mass. It is usually discovered only after you've been hospitalized for a broken bone. Another condition that can lead to underlying serious illness is the condition known as sleep apnea. As insomnia cures develop over the years, more and more people are turning to sleep clinics and specialists to diagnose their sleeplessness - only to find out they have developed sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is caused by pauses in breathing during sleep. A standard definition of an apneic event will be 10 continuous second intervals between breaths. This can cause a blood oxygen de-saturation of 3 to 4%. This condition is diagnosed normally with an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram. Now, I'm not going to bore you with medical terminology, but it is worth noting that a decrease in your blood oxygen night after night, undiagnosed for years has many adverse effects on your well being.

I was actually inspired to write this article from a comment on my most recent post, titled Steve Martins Ambien Experience. While sleep apnea is not necessarily insomnia, it very much negatively affects the quality of sleep we get and thus I have studied it's causes and treatments often in my tenure. Of all the sleep disorders, sleep apnea can cause the greatest amount of direct physiological damage to our bodies, due to the reasons I listed above.

Sleep apnea occurs in two main types: obstructive sleep apnea, which is the more common form. This occurs when throat muscles relax. Central sleep apnea is the second form, and occurs when your brain cannot send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Additionally, some people have complex sleep apnea, which is a combination of both.

Some medical problems that can result from sleep apnea are:
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • sexual dysfunction
  • learning/memory problems
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Complications with medications and surgery
There are other areas that can be severely affected by undiagnosed sleep apnea, these just scratch the surface.

Are You At Risk?
If you can answer yes to any of the following human conditions, you may be at risk for developing sleep apnea.
  1. If you have high blood pressure or hypertension, sleep apnea is not uncommon.
  2. You may have inherited a naturally narrow throat or have enlarged adnoids and/or tonsils, all of which can block your airway.
  3. If you are male you are statistically twice as likely to develop sleep apnea.
  4. Sleep apnea occurs 2 to 3 times more often in adults over 65.
  5. A family history of sleep apnea puts you at increased risk.
  6. The use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers relax the muscles in your throat and can lead to blockage.
There have been remarkable advances in the treatment of this disorder, so if you are at all suspicious about this problem, see a sleep specialist to find out about the latest therapies, such as CPAP, oral appliances, or even surgery. The treatments will differ depending on the type of apnea you are diagnosed with, but all are ery effective.

Should you wish to try your own insomnia cure, or in this case sleep apnea cure, there are a few lifestyle adjustments you should make to alleviate the symptoms, but only until you get to a proper sleep specialist. These are not really cures (of course) but they can help.
  1. Lose excess weight. Even a slight decrease in weight can help relieve constriction in your throat.
  2. Avoid alcohol, sleep meds and tranquilizers.
  3. Sleep on your side or abdomen rather than your back.
  4. Keep your nasal passages open at night by using a saline nasal spray. My clinic has used this product as it contains aloe to keep from drying out the nasal passage. Decongestants and/or antihistamines work as well, but most of these types of medications are for short term use only.
  5. Raise your torso and head 4 to 6 inches during your sleep. You can achieve this with a sleep aiding pillow, such as the one located here, which comes highly recommended. Other pillows come designed with people using CPAP therapy to assist their night time breathing. If you are already implementing a CPAP therapy, an excellent sleep aid pillow can be found here.
Remember, if you suspect that you or someone you love may have sleep apnea, don't wait for another insomnia cures post to nag you into doing something about it. Contact a sleep specialist and take a proper test now. You may add years to your life by being proactive.

Steve Martin's Ambien Experience

Before I explain both the virtues and vices of the popular insomnia cure prescription tablet Ambien, take a look at this video.

I'm not sure if you remember my mentioning the bizarre and adverse effects that can occur for some people who use Ambien, Stilnox, or as it's generically known zolpidem? It was featured in this post. Well if not, I eluded to things good old Steve talks about above, and I can guarantee you that in the video Steve Martin is NOT telling David Letterman a joke. Although it is quite hilarious, the poker experience actually happened to him. These kinds of bizarre things have been known to happen to some people who take this medication.

I'm certainly not suggesting that if you take Ambien you'll become an internet poker millionaire in your sleep, but it is worth it that I point out the incredibly elaborate and complex functions some are capable of completing under the influence of Zolpidem.

Perhaps you remember the story of a Senator (Patrick Kennedy) who was found after he had crashed his car into a security brigade at the US capital? The police assumed he was drunk (Kennedy + drunk = not much of a mental leap) Of course it was later confirmed by blood tests that he had no alcohol in his system. Yes, that, my fair and gentle readers, was another bizarre adverse effect felt from Senator Kennedy taking an Ambien tablet prior to his accident. Here's the link to the full story.

Some other stories that you may find amusing regarding Ambien are the tale of a house wife in Michigan. Apparently she fell to a sound sleep after taking an Ambien tablet, and when she woke the next day her front door was painted green (the kind of green paint used to finish decks). Since she was alone she assumed it was some kind of practical joke, but later she realized that it must have been her sleep painting (?) as her bed clothes and slippers were splashed with the paint. Now I can think of many things I'd like to get done while I'm walking in my sleep, painting the front door is definitely not one of them.

Another story, and one entirely not amusing, is about a Korean man prescribed Stilnox who walked off his 23rd story balcony to his death. He was happily married with a good job and no reason to commit suicide. The only difference between that night and any other for him was that his doctor had recently prescribed Zolpidem to help him sleep.

So now you know what horrors, embarrassments and potential winfalls await you from the use of this drug. I am not saying it is not completely beneficial to getting a good nights sleep, in fact it is one prescription that frequent travellers swear by. But it should also be noted that people in hotel rooms have been known to wander from their rooms into the hallways of hotels to relieve themselves, thinking in their sleep state that the outer hallway is a bathroom. This, according to an official at the Grand Hyatt, is a very common occurence.

My advice is that if you must take an Ambien, you make sure you've locked yourself in for the night - keeping the doors double latched to prevent any wandering and keep the balcony doors tightly sealed from any sleepwalking incidents.

Again I cannot crucify this medication as it truly does help people sleep, people who are afflicted with most types of insomnia. I have used it myself on occasion, and can attest to the fact that it will knock you out cold fairly quickly. The newer timed release versions will also let you sleep longer - as normal Ambien has a very short half life. The plain truth is it works well, and these side effects are on the rare end of the spectrum. However in this case, saying "it will never happen to me" is a fool's wage. Make sure you have taken precautions.

So just remember to be careful of your insomnia cures as some remedies contain serious medications. Be aware that you must have some preperations in order before taking drugs to help you sleep, to ensure you cannot fall victim to this kind of side effect. And for the love of all things good in this world, NEVER take sleep medications while you are drinking alcohol.