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Sleep Facts and Fiction: The Counting Sheep Myth and Others

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July 3, 2014 | Published by


flock of sheep

When it comes to sleep advice, it’s important to know what works and what doesn’t. For example: did you know that counting sheep can actually make you less sleepy and more alert? Read on for better alternatives to counting sheep, and for more sleep facts and fiction.

1. If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, I can make it up later.

Sleep, unlike money, can’t be saved up and moved around when necessary (though how wonderful would that be?). Perhaps more valuable than money, sleep is essential for good health, daily energy and mental clarity. When you’re not sleeping well or enough (7-9 hours a night is ideal for adults), you accrue a ‘sleep debt’ that is quite difficult to pay back. Stuck in catch-up mode, your tired body and mind pay the price, leaving you feeling flat, groggy and mentally foggy.

2. Being tired during the day is caused by lack of sleep.

Are you sleeping 7-9 hours a night and still feeling tired during the day? Aside from dietary issues, there could be another problem causing your fatigue. Chronic and excessive daytime fatigue can stem from narcolepsy, sleep apnea, thyroid issues, adrenal hormone imbalance(s), and viruses, among others. Chances are the condition can be treated, so speak with your physician about options so you can start getting your energy back.

3. Conditions like diabetes, depression and hypertension have nothing to do with quality of sleep.

Poor sleep is linked to many health conditions, physical and mental. For example: lack of sleep is linked to inadequate hormone production; as the amount of hormones released decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. Your blood pressure is typically lower when you’re asleep. Poor sleep can cause higher blood pressure at night, which can lead to cardiovascular issues. It’s also been shown that poor sleep interferes with the body’s ability to manage and control blood sugar, which can lead to hypoglycemia and even diabetes.

4. The older you get, the less sleep you need.

As you get older you may notice you sleep less or find it harder to stay asleep, though your need for sleep (7-9 hours nightly) hasn’t changed. Since older people tend to sleep less at night, they tend to sleep more during the day. And this isn’t a bad thing; in fact, regular naps can be beneficial in promoting alertness and maintaining energy levels.

5. When you’re asleep, your brain turns off.

Your body is at rest during sleep, but your brain remains very active, even while resting. When you sleep, your mind drifts between two states: REM (the deepest, most relaxing sleep) and non-REM. REM sleep is also where dreams happen, breath and heart rates increase and fluctuate, and muscles relax. The brain is the conductor of all these activities, so needless to say it remains quite active while you’re snoozing away.

6. If you can’t fall back asleep, lie in bed and count sheep.

It turns out that counting sheep and other such mental activities can be more distracting than relaxing. Instead, imagine a calm, peaceful scene. Regardless of your technique, most experts agree that if you fall back asleep within 20 minutes, try something else. Go to another room and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to soft music. Avoid watching the time; it can make you feel anxious and unable to rest.

7. Snoring isn’t harmful; it’s just an annoying habit of my significant other.

Sometimes snoring is just snoring, but it can be caused by something like sleep apnea, a condition that inhibits airflow while sleeping. This irregular breathing pattern lowers blood oxygen, which puts a strain on the heart. This is one way frequent and chronic snoring has been linked to hypertension. There are treatment options available for sleep apnea. If you or someone in your home snores regularly, speak to your physician about it.

8. Insomnia means you can’t fall asleep.

Though technically true, difficulty falling asleep is only one of four symptoms generally associated with insomnia. Symptoms also include frequent awakenings, inability to fall back asleep and waking up feeling unrested. When insomnia symptoms occur frequently or hamper your ability to function on a daily basis, it’s time to speak to a professional. Fortunately, the root cause of the insomnia can often be treated.

For more, visit the National Sleep Foundation website: sleepfoundation.org


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2 Comments

  • Carol says:

    Does anybody proofread these writings? A careful reader of this blog would be turned away from the whole supplement line by the inaccuracy of the language in a simple blog (which nobody (?) is reading anyway?)

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