Problem Sleepers

August 13, 2008 7:32:42 AM PDT
Trouble falling sleep, difficulty staying asleep, and awakening too early afflict a lot of people these days. Consumer Reports recently polled Americans to find out how they slept and found that nearly half of us are problems sleepers and too many are turning to pills for help. Nine myths about sleep:

Getting one hour less sleep per night than needed won't affect you.

Reality Getting even slightly less sleep can leave you feeling less energetic, hinder your ability to think properly and respond quickly, affect cardiovascular health, and make it more difficult for your body to fight off infections, particularly if the lack of sleep continues.

Your body quickly adjusts to different sleep schedules.

Reality Our biological clocks are programmed so we're more alert during the day and more drowsy at night. Most people can reset their internal clock by one or two hours a day, but it can take a week or longer to adjust to dramatically altered sleep/wake cycles, such as when traveling across time zones or switching from the day shift to working overnight.

You need less sleep as you age.

Reality Older people need just as much sleep as other adults, but they often get less or find it less refreshing because they spend less time in deep, restful sleep and might be easily awakened. They also tend to suffer from aches, pains, and medical conditions that can disrupt sleep.

Extra sleep can prevent daytime fatigue.

Reality It's not just how much you sleep but how well. Some people sleep eight or nine hours but don't feel well rested because of poor-quality sleep.

You can make up for sleep loss by sleeping more on weekends.

Reality This pattern will help relieve part of the sleep deficit, but it won't completely make up for it. Nor will it make up for impaired weekday performance. Sleeping later on weekends can make it more difficult to fall asleep on Sunday night and get up early on Monday.

Naps are a waste of time.

Reality Naps aren't a substitute for a good night's sleep, but they can be restorative. Napping after 3 p.m., though, can make it tougher to fall asleep at night. It can also be difficult to shake off the cobwebs if you nap for more than an hour.

Snoring is normal.

Reality It's common, especially as we age. But snoring on a regular basis might make you sleepy during the day and more susceptible to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to growing evidence. Loud snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious condition in which breathing can stop during sleep for as long as a minute. Untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, headaches, impotence, memory problems, and weight gain.

Children who don't get enough sleep will show signs of sleepiness during the day.

Reality Unlike adults, children who are sleep-deprived typically become more active during the day, behaving improperly and having difficulty paying attention.

The main cause of insomnia is worry.

Reality Although stress can cause short bouts of insomnia, a persistent inability to fall or stay asleep generally stems from a number of factors: a reaction to medication, depression or anxiety, or asthma, arthritis, or other medical conditions with symptoms that worsen at night.

Sources: Department of Health and Human

Read full article in the September 2008 issue of Consumer Reports or log onto www.consumerreports.org for more details.


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