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Test your sleep smarts: Experts take on six popular sleep myths

From the amount of sleep you need to preferring sleep over sex, many Americans need a wake-up call on the importance of sleep.
by Heather Warlick Published: February 5, 2013

Sleep is a basic need for all humans, yet experts say insufficient sleep is a national epidemic.

“We have a 24/7 society where the lights and computers and TV are on all the time,” said Dr. Greg McKinnis, medical director for Oklahoma Sleep Institute. “It’s excessive wakefulness that’s the problem in America.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that an estimated 50 million to 70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder.

This lack of sleep has some Americans “sleeping around,” according to a 2012 study from The Better Sleep Council. The study shows that nearly half of Americans fall asleep somewhere other than their beds once a week or more. Among these non-mattress locations are work, church, in vehicles and even on the toilet.

Adults generally need from seven to nine hours of sleep every night to repair the damage done during the day, according to Family Sleep Institute.

“We’re grossly below that number in America,” McKinnis said, though sleep requirements do vary from person to person. Some people may function well on only five hours, while another person may need as many as 10 hours of sleep to feel fully rested. A good time to figure out how much sleep you need is while on vacation. The amount of sleep you take on the fourth or fifth day of a restful vacation is probably the amount you need on a daily basis, McKinnis said.

Test your sleep smarts as we take on several popular sleep myths.

•Myth: It’s healthy and normal to crave sleep more than I crave sex.

That’s a sign that you’re either sleep insufficient or deprived. The Better Sleep Council’s 2012 survey found that 60 percent of Americans crave sleep more than sex. Most of these Americans are women and many admitted to falling asleep during sex.

•Myth: Falling asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow is as sign of healthy sleep.

Normally, it takes between 10 and 20 minutes to fall asleep, experts say. Falling asleep right away is likely a sign that your body needs more sleep than you’ve been giving it.

“How awake and alert are you during the day?” McKinnis said. “That’s the question — not when you go to bed at night.”

•Myth: Sleeping like a log, never waking or moving during the nigh means I’m a great sleeper.

“Brief awakenings are fairly common,” McKinnis said. Between the four or five sleep cycles that make up a good night’s sleep, we naturally either wake or come close to waking.

It’s not being able to go back to sleep immediately that can be a problem.

Many people experience the feeling of falling down stairs just as they’re dozing off. The phenomena is called hypnic jerks.

“There is a little bit of an unsteady transition period between wakefulness and sleep,” McKinnis explained. He said he’s experienced hypnic jerks since he was a kid. “That is a fairly normal phenomenon and it’s described over and over again by patients.”

•Myth: I know I have a sleep debt, but I pay it back during the weekends by sleeping in and taking long naps.

Oklahoma Sleep Institute Family Sleep Institute Releases 5 Things You Probably... Better Sleep Council

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by Heather Warlick
Life & Style Editor
Since graduating from University of Central Oklahoma with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, Staff Writer Heather Warlick has written stories for The Oklahoman's Life section. Her beats have included science, health, home and garden, family,...
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