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Sleep Myths

Debunking the Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation About Sleep:

Myth:  Sleep is not important. I can just get by on a few hours.

Fact: Sleep is vital to our health and well-being; it is just as important as diet and exercise. Research shows that all mammals need sleep.  Sleep regulates mood and is related to learning and memory functions. Not only will getting enough sleep help you learn a new skill, stay on task or be productive, it may also be a critical factor in your health, weight and energy level.

Although individual needs may vary, adults typically need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. It is difficult to make up for lost sleep because each time you don't get enough sleep, you add to your sleep debt (the accumulated sleep that is lost due to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings due to environmental factors or other causes.) As a result, the sleep debt may make you feel sleepier and less alert at times.

Many people follow an exercise program to stay healthy. It's important to have a smart sleep program as well.

Myth: Insomnia is not a serious medical condition and has no consequences.

Fact: Insomnia can be a serious medical condition characterized by difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep (waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep), waking up too early in the morning or feeling tired upon waking.   Several consequences of insomnia are decreased work performance, depression or mood changes and increased risk of automotive crashes.

Myth: Men and women are affected the same way by insomnia.

Fact: Insomnia is nearly twice as common in women than in men, and women are more likely than men to report insomnia to their healthcare professional. A woman's sleep is uniquely influenced by menstrual cycle, biological life stage, stress level, health, mood, parental status, work hours and other life responsibilities.

Myth: If I can't sleep, I can pick up something at the pharmacy. I don't need to see a healthcare professional. After all, OTCs are safer than prescription sleep aids.

Fact: It's important to discuss all of your health conditions with your healthcare professional, especially if you've been experiencing symptoms of insomnia for more than a month. Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids may be appropriate, but it's smart to discuss any treatment options with your healthcare professional before you self-medicate.  Common OTC medications used as sleep aids may contain ingredients such as antihistamines and/or pain relievers which you may not need and also have side effects. Work with your healthcare professional to develop a personalized treatment plan including lifestyle changes and sleep habits to address your insomnia or other sleep problems over the long term.

Myth: I can have alcohol or wine with my sleep aid - it will help me get to sleep faster.

Fact: Sleep medications should not be used with alcohol or other drugs. Sleep aids should also not be taken before driving or operating machinery, or before taking a bath or shower, among other things. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions about how to take, when to take, and how long to take sleep aids.

Some people feel that alcohol is a sleep aid on its own. However, while alcohol may calm you and speed the onset of sleep, it actually increases the number of times you awaken during the night.

Myth: Prescription sleep aids are not safe and may be addictive or cause dependency.

Fact: When taken as prescribed, sleep aids can safely and effectively treat insomnia. There is a lower risk for dependency and tolerance with the newer prescription sleep aids compared to traditional benzodiazopines. People with a history of addiction, or alcohol and drug abuse, are at an increased risk of dependence from sleep aids. Be sure to inform your healthcare professional of any previous dependence problems.

As with all medications, it is important to take sleep aids only as directed by a healthcare professional. This means following his or her instructions about how to take, when to take and how long to take sleep medicine. Sleep aids should not be taken with alcohol, before driving or operating machinery, or before taking a bath or shower, among other things. Be sure you're able to devote 7 to 8 hours to sleep before being active again.

Myth: Exercising before bed will make me tired, and help me sleep.

Fact: Exercise can be helpful for good sleep, especially when done regularly in the morning or afternoon and not too close to bedtime. If you don't exercise regularly, add good sleep to a long list of reasons why you should take up the practice.

However, sleep experts have cautioned people to avoid strenuous exercise right before sleep and even up to three hours before bedtime. That's because exercise has an alerting effect and raises your body temperature. This rise leads to a corresponding fall in temperature five to six hours later, which makes sleep easier then. If you've been exercising close to bedtime and having trouble falling or staying asleep, try to arrange your workout earlier in the day.

Myth: Watching TV in my bedroom and working on my laptop in bed helps me wind down and fall asleep.

Fact: Doing work, watching TV and using the computer, both close to bedtime and especially in the bedroom, hinders quality sleep. Violent shows, news reports and stories before bedtime can be agitating. The sleep environment should be used only for sleep and sex.

For Dr. Donnica's Top Tips on Healthy Sleep, click here.

For more information on Sleeping Smart, click here.

Created: 5/14/2009  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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