We hear a lot about the subject of sleep because it’s so essential to our health and happiness — but some of the accepted wisdom isn’t true. In this post, we’ll help you separate fact from fiction by addressing some of the most fundamental questions and myths about sleep — from how many hours you really need each night to whether you should use an over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pill.
1. You need eight hours to function at your best.
Not true! There’s nothing magic about that number, said Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman’s Guide to Sleep, in a WebMD interview. Everyone has different sleep needs, and you’ll know you’re getting enough when you don’t feel like napping in the afternoon.
2. More sleep is always healthier.
Not necessarily. A WebMD story reported that some research found that people who slept more than eight hours a night died younger than people who got between six and eight hours. In fact, long sleepers may also suffer from problems such as sleep apnea, depression, or uncontrolled diabetes. What researchers don’t yet know is whether longer sleep is a symptom of the problem, or the cause.
3. Some people function perfectly on four hours of sleep.
Some people do, but most people don’t. Many short sleepers just may not be aware of how sleepy they really are. Too little sleep can impair performance, judgment, and the ability to pay attention. And, it can make you sick by weakening your immune system. Studies have also linked sleeplessness to obesity.
4. You need drugs if you have insomnia.
No! Sleep meds are not the solution for insomnia. Sleep meds are designed for short-term sleep problems caused by stressful events, such as the loss of a job or loved one, or a divorce. People with longer-term problems benefit more from sleep therapy. You can overcome insomnia not through a pill, but by practicing “sleep hygiene” and learning better sleep habits, such as going to bed at the same time every night.
For more on sleeping habits, check out WebMD’s excellent feature, 7 Myths about Sleep.