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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
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If your body needs eight hours of sleep each night and you only get six hours during the workweek, you are 10 hours in sleep debt by the weekend.

“You can repay that debt a little bit on the weekend but you can’t repay it fully,” McKinnis said. Research shows, he said, that a person with insufficient sleep for two weeks straight performs psychomotor tasks no better than a person who has been completely sleep deprived for 48 hours.

•Myth: Over-the-counter sleep aids are safe, effective and can be used for long periods of time.

Most of these sleep aids contain an antihistamine, usually diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl. They can knock you out, but regular use of these products can rob you of the repairing, restorative sleep you really need, the Family Sleep Institute states.

“In moderation, once or twice a week isn’t going to cause major issues for the average person,” McKinnis said, assuming that person has no medical issues such as high blood pressure, smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that antihistamines can leave you feeling groggy the day after you take one for sleep. They increase the risk for falls in the elderly and can lead to urinary retention and stress incontinence according to Family Sleep Institute. They can also become habit forming.

Melatonin, a supplement not regulated by the FDA, is fairly nontoxic but its potency can be unpredictable, McKinnis said, due to the lack of regulations.

•Myth: Babies need the most sleep; senior citizens need the least. It’s true that babies need the most sleep and will often sleep 16 hours a day. Experts estimate that preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) need 11 to 13 hours of sleep, while school-age children up to age 12 need approximately 10 to 11 hours. Teens ages 10 to 17 need 8.5 to 9 hours, and adults need 7 to 9 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Many people think that seniors need less sleep than anyone, but that myth is probably perpetuated by the fact that many seniors have trouble achieving healthy amounts of sleep.

“As you get into late adulthood, elderly age, the amount of sleep you need stays very similar to what it was when you were in middle age, but achieving that sleep becomes much more difficult,” McKinnis said. Issues that can keep seniors from getting good sleep include vision issues, such as cataracts, that cause problems regulating sleep cycles by affecting the amount of light that triggers sleep and wake cycles.

Seniors often take a variety of medications that can cause lighter, more fragmented sleep.

If you experience sleep difficulties, there are some natural ways you can help yourself sleep better. Limit your intake of caffeine after 3 or 4 p.m., even if you think you’ve developed a tolerance to it.

Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark and that your bedtime routine is the same every night.

Getting plenty of exercise during the day tops the list of ways to help ensure a good night’s sleep.

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