10 Myths About Sleep

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Middle aged mother and teen daughter chatting on bed

Sleeping is something nearly everyone does on a nightly basis. And yet, many people hold misconceptions about sleep. Learn the truth behind these 10 common sleep myths.

1. You can get by on five or six hours of sleep without much of a problem.  

It’s common for adults to sleep less than seven hours a night, but that doesn’t mean you should. Most people need to snooze at least 7 to 8 hours to feel refreshed.

2. Poor sleep affects your mood, but nothing else.

Sleep affects much more than how you feel the next day. Sleep deprivation is linked to a higher risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Poor sleep can also be deadly if you get behind the wheel. Drowsy driving plays a role in an estimated 100,000 vehicle collisions each year.

3. The only way a doctor can help you sleep is to prescribe medicine.

Your treatment depends partially on what’s causing your sleep problems. Sometimes, a health condition or a certain medication is the culprit. Your doctor will ask you questions and may do tests to learn the cause of your sleep problems. A sleeping pill isn’t always the solution.

4. Insomnia means you can’t fall asleep.

Insomnia actually includes four symptoms:

  • Having a hard time falling asleep

  • Not feeling rested after sleep

  • Waking up often during the night

  • Waking up early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep

You don’t have to have all four symptoms to have insomnia.

5. Snoring is harmless.

Snoring can be a sign of a disorder called sleep apnea. With this condition, your breathing stops briefly multiple times during the night. Sleep apnea increases your risk for health problems such as heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Most people who snore do not have sleep apnea. But if a family member says you often snore loudly, or have pauses in your snoring followed by choking or gasping, talk with your doctor.

6. If you’re tired during the day, it just means you didn’t sleep enough.

Some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can make you feel fatigued even though you slept all night. Certain medical conditions can also cause daytime sleepiness. Tell your doctor if you feel tired or groggy most days.

7. If you can’t fall asleep, it’s best to stay in bed.

Experts say to get out of bed if you’ve been trying to sleep for more than 20 minutes. Get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired, then try going back to bed.

8. You can catch up on sleep by sleeping in on the weekend.

Sleeping in for a day or two might make you feel a little better, but it won’t make up for the sleep you lost during the week. It might even make you feel worse when you have to wake up early on Monday morning, since your sleep schedule will be off.

9. A nightcap will help you sleep.

An alcoholic drink before bed, or nightcap, decreases the quality of your sleep. You tend to stay in the lighter sleep stages and don’t spend as much time in deep sleep after having consumed alcohol.

10. Teenagers who nod off during class are undisciplined.

Adolescents need more sleep than adults—about 9 to 10 hours. However, most teens get only about seven hours. Smartphone and computer use and early morning classes may contribute to why teens don’t get enough sleep.

Key Takeaways

Many people hold misconceptions about sleep. Here are some facts:

  • Most adults need to sleep at least 7 to 8 hours to feel refreshed.

  • Sleep deprivation is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

  • Snoring and daytime sleepiness can be signs of sleep apnea, in which your breathing stops briefly multiple times during the night.

  • Sleeping in on the weekend won’t make up for sleep you lost during the week.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 11
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Myths and facts about sleep. National Sleep Foundation. https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/myths-and-facts-about-sleep

  2. Sleep and Chronic Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html

  3. What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd

  4. What is Sleep Apnea? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea

  5. Your guide to healthy sleep. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf

  6. Tips for getting a good night’s sleep. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. NIH MedlinePlus: The Magazine. 2012;7(2):20.