October 27

Insomnia: Myths and Misconceptions

This blog post is the next installment in a series of posts on insomnia.

The topic of today’s blog post is common misconceptions many of us have about sleep and insomnia.

Myth No. 1

The most common misconception about sleep is that everyone needs eight hours of sleep per night, and that if you don’t sleep for eight hours, you have insomnia or, at the very least, you get insufficient sleep.

In fact, most people don’t need eight hours of sleep per night. Many people know they can’t sleep for eight hours a night and that they don’t need that much sleep. Recall from my last blog post that the amount of sleep we need changes as we age and that the older we get, the less sleep we need. This is normal.

The amount of sleep you need is an individual thing. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Some people can function perfectly well on five hours of sleep per night. Others need eight hours. Most people fall somewhere within this range.

People who have insomnia sleep about 5.5 hours per night, which is about two hours less than people who don’t have insomnia. This means that people with insomnia get 70% of normal sleep. Five and a half hours of sleep per night constitutes your core sleep, or deep sleep, which is the most important sleep. (See the previous blog post on sleep stages.) As long as you get enough deep sleep, which is the sleep stage needed for muscle recovery, you are getting the most important sleep, which is enough sleep. In addition, these 5.5 hours of core sleep don’t need to be continuous.

The current world record holder for the longest time awake without the use of stimulants such as caffeine is Randy Gardner. He was able to stay awake continuously for 11 days and 24 minutes. At the end of this period, he slept for only 15 hours! This tells us that we don’t need to recover all the sleep that we lose. The most important sleep that we need to recover is deep sleep (for muscle recovery) and not REM sleep (for brain recovery).

Myth No. 2

Another common myth about insomnia or inadequate sleep is that sleep deprivation decreases your daytime performance.

Studies show that getting 70% of normal sleep, or 5.5 hours per night (core sleep), doesn’t affect daytime performance; that is, alertness, memory, and problem solving ability are not affected for most people.

In fact, the side effects of sleeping pills on daytime performance are usually greater than sleep deprivation they are meant to prevent.

Usually, lack of sleep is brought about by stress, which is a likelier cause of reduced daytime performance than sleep deprivation.

Myth No. 3

Another misconception about sleep deprivation is that long term, is can cause chronic illness.

This is not true. After staying awake for more than 11 days, Randy Gardner was drowsy and irritable, but he had no short- or long-term health consequences as a result, such as hallucinations, seizures, or delusions.

I hope this blog post has given you some reassurance that you may be getting more sleep than you think and also that you may be getting enough sleep.

In a later blog post, I will write more about causes of insomnia and what you can do about them. Stay tuned!


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