Myths and Misconceptions About Sleep

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2020 | Last updated: May 2023

Humans spend about one-third of their lives asleep. It is a body function as important as food and water in keeping you healthy and alive. Everyone needs sleep, though doctors do not fully understand why. They do know that sleep affects the whole body, including the brain, heart, lungs, immune system, and mood.

Myths about sleep

Myth: Adults can operate well on 4 to 5 hours of sleep

Fact: Many adults feel that devoting 7 to 9 hours each night to sleep is unnecessary. However, studies show that people who consistently sleep less than 7 to 9 hours a night have poorer health and more accidents. People who are sleep-deprived also perform less well at work and school.1-3

Myth: Snoring is common and harmless

Fact: Many people think that snoring is harmless. However, nothing could be more untrue. Yes, the occasional bout of snoring when you have a head cold probably is not an issue. But snoring most nights is a sign of sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease and falling asleep while driving.4

Myth: People who fall asleep in the daytime are lazy or are not taking care of themselves

Fact: People with narcolepsy may fall asleep without warning throughout the day. This is not because they are lazy but because their brain chemicals do not signal when to stay awake. Most doctors believe narcolepsy is an autoimmune condition.5

Myth: Sleep is unproductive and nothing important happens during sleep

Fact: Many people fail to prioritize sleep because they think of it as ‘dead time’ or a time when the body is doing nothing in particular. However, sleep is a complex process during which your brain and body recharge itself. Sleep helps your body repair muscle, maintain immunity, and allows your brain to process the day’s information and emotions.1,4,6

Myth: Watching TV, reading on a tablet, or playing video games help you relax so you can fall asleep

Fact: Electronic devices emit a type of light that actually stimulates your brain rather than relaxing it. This light makes it harder to fall asleep, not easier. Most doctors recommend turning off electronic devices and dimming the lights 1 hour before you want to go to sleep.6,7

Myth: Only grown men get sleep apnea

Fact: It is true that more men develop sleep apnea than women. However, women and children have sleep apnea too. Between 24 and 31 percent of men have sleep apnea compared to 9 to 21 percent of women. Between 2 and 20 percent of children who snore often have sleep apnea.1

Myth: Only overweight people have sleep apnea

Fact: Many normal weight or underweight people have sleep apnea. It is usually caused by a small jaw, large tonsils, or another physical reason why their airway collapses during sleep. Sometimes their brains are more sensitive to waking up at night.

Myth: You can catch up on sleep over the weekend

Fact: Many people think that if you get extra sleep on the weekends you can make up for lack of sleep during the week. The fact is, the human body operates best when the amount of sleep and the times slept are consistent day-after-day and week-after-week. This means going to bed the same times on weekdays and weekends. Consistent sleep deprivation is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, poor moods, lower productivity, and more accidents.3,4

Myth: Restless legs syndrome is not a real sleep disorder

Fact: Family members and friends may dismiss how uncomfortable a person with restless legs syndrome (RLS) may feel because they cannot see it. This also makes it hard to understand why it may interfere with sleep. However, RLS is one of the more common sleep disorders. It can impact quality of life and is linked higher death rates in people who have kidney disease and are on dialysis.8,9

Myth: Sleep problems are not a big deal

Fact: Doctors believe that 50 million to 70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder. Sleep deprivation, insomnia, and sleep apnea are the most common sleep problems. Untreated sleep disorders can lead to serious health conditions, problems at work and school, and driving or workplace accidents that cost billions of dollars a year.1,4

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