Sleep myths busted

Sleep myths busted

sleep myths

Counting sheep

A good night’s sleep is essential for your health.

In Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Dr Matthew Walker delves into this necessity we depend on but know so little about. He discusses how developed countries are experiencing a sleep crisis, with demanding work hours, social lives, and technology all taking their toll on our systems.

‘Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer… a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate
sleep – even moderate reductions for just one week – disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path towards cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure… sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality.’ Frankly, ‘the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span’, he says. Dr Kevin Rosman at the Morningside Sleep Centre, helps bust some sleep myths…

Myth 1: You can’t ‘catch up’ on sleep

‘In fact you can. However, the catch-up is primarily in terms of quality, although quantity is also important. The longer you’ve been sleep deprived, the longer it takes to normalise your functioning after sleep is lengthened. It’s true most adults need at least eight hours a day, but the amount of sleep we need is genetically determined. It’s why some CEOs can manage on four hours.’ We also can’t get used to living on less sleep; your body doesn’t adjust over time.

Myth 2: A nightcap before bed will help you sleep

‘Alcohol will help put you to sleep more rapidly, but it will also cause you to wake up a few hours later as it keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep, therefore depriving you of quality sleep that is crucial. Furthermore, you’ll sit with the problems of chronic alcohol use, with all its effects on your health.’

Myth 3: Daytime sleepiness means you’re not getting enough sleep

‘Daytime sleepiness means that a person is either not getting enough hours of sleep, or else not enough quality of sleep. You need to differentiate between “sleepiness” and “fatigue”. Sleepiness is the propensity to fall asleep. Fatigue is what you feel when you’re physically tired, depressed, or perhaps not well. In other words, daytime sleepiness always means that you either had not enough sleep or it was bad quality.’


Myth 4: During sleep, your brain rests

‘The brain is extremely active during sleep. Sleep is when numerous things happen, such as consolidation of memory, control of all the hormones, control of mood, clearing toxic substances from the brain, control of immunity, control of tissue repair, and so on.’

Myth 5: Working night shift is ok

Apart from the rare individual, most people do need to sleep at night. The reason is that the body runs on a number of different 24-hour cycles and disruption of sleep will also disrupt these cycles, and can cause illness. There’s evidence to suggest that about 30% of people who work night shifts will be boarded for ill health within three years. These people frequently have a number of significant health issues if the shift work is not properly managed. Memory becomes a problem and in severe cases they’ll appear to be brain damaged. People can become moody and extremely depressed as hormones are regulated during sleep.’

Did you know 

  • After being awake for about 19 hours continuously, control of a car is about the same as driving drunk. After about 26 hours of being awake, the control of the car is roughly the same as driving at double the legal alcohol limit.
  • Teenagers require roughly the same amount of sleep as preteens, about nine hours. However, they undergo a physiological ‘phase shift delay’, which means their falling asleep time becomes a few hours later, and their waking time a few hours later. They have difficulty getting up early, and maintaining concentration, particularly in the first few classes at school. Studies have shown that allowing teens to start school and finish classes an hour or two later, can have a positive effect on their marks. They adapt to normal patterns by early 20s.





Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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