Sleep myths, such as feeling fine on five hours’ sleep, can pose ‘risk to health’

Sabrina Barr
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Sleep myths, such as feeling fine on five hours’ sleep, can pose ‘risk to health’

The prevalence of sleep myths could pose a serious risk to one's health, scientists have warned.

We all know someone who, contrary to advice from health professionals, believes that they can get by on five hours' sleep a night.

While they may be under the assumption that lack of sleep is no big deal, perpetuating this notion could lead to long-term health issues.

Researchers from the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine have carried out an investigation to identify the top 20 most widespread beliefs regarding sleep.

The team assessed more than 8,000 websites in order to pinpoint the most pervasive sleep myths for the study, which was published in journal Sleep Health.

With the assistance of sleep medicine experts, they then ranked the beliefs, determining whether each could be categorised as a sleep myth, or backed up by scientific evidence.

These included the claim that "sleeping in during the weekends is a good way to ensure you get adequate sleep", the view that adults can maintain good overall health on five hours' sleep or less, and the statement that "remembering your dreams is a sign of a good night's sleep".

According to the researchers, there is still some contention among sleep experts regarding whether sleeping in during the weekend is beneficial.

They explain that while enjoying a lie in at the weekend may be beneficial for those whose jobs involve shifts at various times of the day, for others, it may disrupt their natural circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm, otherwise known as the "body clock", is the 24-hour cycle which dictates when the body wakes and sleeps.

On the other hand, the view that remembering your dreams is a sign of a good night's sleep is a "myth", says senior study investigator Giardin Jean-Louis.

He explains that this is because everyone experiences four or five dreams a night, which they may not remember simply because their sleep wasn't disrupted.

According to the researchers, the belief regarding five hours' sleep a night was one of the "top myths" they were able to debunk based on scientific evidence.

They state that this myth poses "the most serious risk to health from long-term sleep deficits".

According to the NHS, adults should try to achieve seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

It's advised that children should sleep for nine to 13 hours of sleep, while toddlers and babies should sleep for 12 to 17 hours a night.

Another myth assessed by the scientists concerned snoring, as many are under the assumption that snoring is "harmless".

While this may be the case, the researchers warn that it may be a sign of sleep apnea, a common condition which causes your normal breathing pattern to be interrupted due to the relaxing and narrowing of the walls of the throat.

“Sleep is important to health, and there needs to be greater effort to inform the public regarding this important public health issue,” says Professor Jean-Louis.

“For example, by discussing sleep habits with their patients, doctors can help prevent sleep myths from increasing risks for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.”

Study lead investigator, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, adds that sleep is a "vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and general health and wellbeing". .

“Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health," she states.

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