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Sleep Myths and Misunderstandings

Whether you are eight months old or are in your eighties, you need sleep. Experts say that the average adult requires somewhere between seven and nine hours spent sleeping every single night in order to maintain optimum health and cognitive acuity. As sleep scientists delve deeper into why we sleep, how we sleep and what we can do to make our sleep more effective, they are also rapidly disproving a number of long-standing sleep misconceptions. Here are several sleep myths that have been disproven, and an eye-opening look into the truth behind sleep.

Older People Don’t Need As Much Sleep

There is a commonly-held belief that as we age, the amount of sleep that we need diminishes. This is not true. Older people need just as much sleep as do younger and middle-aged adults. What is true is that as we age, our social schedules and lifestyle change, and as a result we may go to sleep earlier and awaken earlier. Naps in the middle of the day can also shorten our nighttime sleep duration, and medications that we take may make it more difficult to stay asleep for an extended period of time.

We Only Dream During the REM Sleep Cycle

Though it is true that the majority of our dreams take place during REM sleep, and that the dreams that we experience during that phase of sleep are far more intense than the dreams we have at other times in our sleep cycle, dreams can appear through any of the various stages of sleep that we experience over the course of a night. As an aside, sleep experts say that the average person dreams for approximately two hours, every single night.

Late Night Workouts Interfere With Sleep

It has long been believed that working out at night will make it much more difficult to fall asleep at night, but there have been several studies that have proven otherwise. A 2011 study showed no difference in the amount of time it took to fall asleep between a group who had not exercised and a group who exercised for 35 minutes prior to going to bed, and in 2014 a study done at Arizona State University showed that though those who exercise in the morning have an easier time falling asleep and experience better sleep quality, there was no negative impact for those who worked out at night.

Sleep Deprived

You Should Count Sheep to Fall Asleep

Several studies have shown that research participants who were told to count sheep in order to help them fall asleep took much longer to fall asleep than was true of those who were told that in order to relax they should visualize themselves within a relaxing scene. Apparently, the stimulation of trying to envision and count sheep was too taxing and required more alertness than was the case for those picturing lying in a hammock or sitting in a warm meadow on a sunny day.

When You Sleep, Your Brain Goes on Siesta Too

Before modern research into sleep, physicians and the general public believed that sleep was a time when the brain would shut down completely. But more recent studies and brain scans have shown that the brain remains extremely active while the body is asleep, and a research project completed at Harvard Medical School concluded that there are some stages of sleep during which the brain is just as active as it is when we are fully awake. Though the brain remains active, the rest of the body does rejuvenate while we are sleeping. Sleep is when the majority of tissue healing and bone cell regeneration takes place.

You Can Train Your Body to Need Less Sleep

Though there have been notable celebrities, politicians and business people who have claimed that they needed less sleep than others, and some of whom claim to have trained themselves to reach that ability, there is no physiological evidence that this is possible. Over time, the body will react to a lack of sleep in a number of negative ways ranging from crankiness and irritability to clouded thinking and higher risk for a number of serious chronic health conditions.

Dreaming of Dying Causes Death

There is a myth oft-told at middle school sleepovers and around Boy Scout campfires that says that if you have a dream in which you die, your body will die. This is patently untrue. There are many people who have died in their dreams and then woken up the next day feeling perfectly healthy.

When You Can’t Fall Asleep, It’s Best to Just Lie in Bed and Wait

Sleep scientists universally agree that it’s a mistake to lie in your bed for longer than twenty minutes or half an hour. If you can’t fall asleep and you stay there, you’re likely to introduce an air of negativity or anxiety to your bedroom, and that can lead to chronic insomnia. You are far better off getting out of bed and doing something relaxing until you start to feel sleepy, then return to your bed. Good ideas for restful activities include reading or meditating, but it is important that you do so in a relaxing, dimly lit environment. Do not turn to electronic devices in these instances – the blue light that they emit will awaken your brain further, making your situation go from bad to worse.

If You’re Yawning, It’s Because You’re Tired

Yawning has been proven to be contagious, and it has also been shown that people who yawn when others do have higher empathy scores on cognitive tests. There is also some evidence that we may yawn in response to stress or fear, as the process actually cools the brain’s temperature.

It Is Dangerous to Wake A Sleepwalker

When you find somebody walking in your sleep, experts say that the best thing to do is to gently guide them back to their bedroom. That being said, waking them will do little more than making them confused.

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