07/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

5 Myths About Sleep And Insomnia

We spend a third of our lives asleep, and it's clear that without it our brains don't function as well, yet little is known about exactly why we do it. Even less understood? Why we don't. As many as 35 million Americans experience chronic insomnia, and yet in 2006 only $20 million was spent on research (Compare that with the $123 million spent on advertising the prescription sleep aid Ambien.)

In the six years that author, professor and lifelong insomniac Gayle Greene spent researching and writing her book "Insomniac" (during which, ironically, she says she got the best sleep of her life), she learned almost all there is to know about sleep and the lack thereof. Here are five common myths about how we get our shut-eye and why:

1. Humans Need Eight Hours Sleep a Night:
There are many ways of sleeping and few cultures sleep in eight-hour consolidated blocks like we do. In places like Bali and New Guinea, people tend to slip in and out of sleep as they need it, napping more during the day, and getting up more at night. Until the industrial era, many Western Europeans divided the night into "the first sleep" and the "second sleep." They'd go to bed soon after dark, sleep for four hours then wake for an hour or two during which they'd write, pray, smoke, reflect on dreams they'd had, have sex or even visit neighbors. In fact, there's some evidence to suggest that this sleep pattern may be the one most in tune with our inherent circadian rhythms.

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