May is Better Sleep Month -- and it should serve as a "wake up" call for America, giving us the opportunity to reflect on one of the most overlooked health priorities in our lives: sleep! The masses of the sleep-deprived have a higher risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression.
The reality is we're often to blame for our own sleep deprivation -- clinging to bad habits and buying into the sleep myths that keep us perpetually tired. So, let's end this vicious cycle of misinformation and begin to feel better -- by revealing the truth behind common sleep myths.
Top 10 Sleep Myths:
Sleep Myth: Eight hours of sleep is a luxury; six hours is realistic.
Truth: Sleeping should not be treated as a luxury, but as a necessary part of total health. People who get the proper amount of sleep feel better, look better and are overall in better health. This is a major step to enjoying life more. I always tell people that it is hard to enjoy life when you are too fatigued to do what you like.
Sleep Myth: If I don't get enough sleep at night, I can make up for it with a nap during the day.
Truth: While naps can rejuvenate you enough to get through the day, they are not a permanent solution to sleep deprivation. If you must nap, avoid them after 3 p.m. or you'll affect your ability to sleep at night, creating a vicious cycle.
Sleep Myth: The weekends are a great time to rest for a long week ahead.
Truth: You can't "bank" sleep and store it up for the future. Although being well-rested will help you cope a bit better with lost sleep, sluggishness will set in.
Sleep Myth: Hitting the snooze button will give me a few extra minutes of rest I need to feel energized.
Truth: If you're snoozing, you're sleep-deprived. Sleep does not come in nine-minute intervals, so be realistic about the time you need to get up. I like hitting the snooze alarm one time and doing light stretching with the light on. This gives you a gentle way to wake up.
Sleep Myth: I'll learn more if I pull an all-nighter and cram for a test.
Truth: If you pull an all-nighter, your memory may fail you during that big test. It's during the REM stage of sleep that we consolidate memories from the day before. If we are trying to learn new information and skimp on sleep we won't remember as much information.
Sleep Myth: If I wake in the middle of the night, I should read a book or watch TV until I become sleepy.
Truth: The bright light from your TV or lamp will only wake you up further. If you get up at night, go into another room and keep the room dark. I suggest meditating or doing light stretching until you feel ready for sleep again.
Sleep Myth: Exercising near bed time will keep me up at night because I'm too "energized."
Truth: Exercising near bed time may keep you up at night, but that's most likely because your body is too hot. Your core body temperature must cool down before you can have a restful sleep. The optimal time for exercise is four hours before you plan to go to bed.
Sleep Myth: As I get older, my body requires less sleep.
Truth: Research has shown that as we get older we still need the same amount of sleep as when we were younger. In fact, older adults need to spend more time in bed to get the same amount of sleep, thanks to the aches, pains and medications that wake them up at night.
Sleep Myth: Snoring may be annoying, but it's harmless.
Truth: Habitual snorers can be at risk for serious health problems, including sleep apnea, which can result in high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Not to mention the impact that snoring can have on your quality of sleep and that of your sleep partner!
Sleep Myth: Lack of sleep may make me feel tired, but it doesn't have a severe impact on my health.
Truth: The consequences of even one hour of sleep loss for one night can be an increase in heart attacks. The masses of the sleep-deprived have a higher risk of illness -- from heart disease, to Type 2 diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression.
Here's another truth: I could keep on going. Unfortunately, there are too many myths about sleep.
If you're ready to begin a new sleep routine, but don't know where to start, the National Institutes of Health has issued "Your Guide to Healthy Sleep," which is a great resource. Also, I invite you to go to the Sleep to Live Institute where my team and I start simple, with "Sleep 101" and have created a "Sleep Tips" page that provides the foundation you need to start feeling rested!
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