How much sleep do you need? Eight hours? Six? Or maybe you're good with a solid four? Well, it turns out that even though you think you can function on five or fewer hours of sleep, this is just a myth. It's also dangerous to your health.

That's not the only myth about sleep that is dangerous to health. Another two: Snoring is harmless, and having a drink to fall asleep is just fine.

These myths can result in a significant public health threat, according to a new study published online April 16 in Sleep Health.

Researchers from the NYU School of Medicine studied more than 8,000 websites looking for the top 20 most common beliefs about sleep.

Working with sleep medicine experts, the NYU team ranked the assumptions as to whether they could be categorized as a myth or whether they were supported by scientific evidence.

If the beliefs were labeled as a myth, the harm they could cause was identified.

'Sleep is an important part of health, and lack of sleep affects productivity, mood and overall health and emotional well-being,' said Dr. Sean Endsley, a Waco, Texas, dentist.

One of the top claims dispelled as a harmful myth was that people can get by on just five hours of sleep each night.

The problem with getting less than five hours of sleep per night is that it carries severe risks to health because of long-term sleep deficit.

'When you don't get enough sleep, your overall health suffers. You get high blood pressure, you have a greater risk of developing diabetes, and your memory and cognitive ability suffer,' Endsley said.

Another common myth relates to snoring.

'Snoring isn't just bothersome to your partner; it can be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder,' Endsley said.

When individuals have sleep apnea, breathing starts and repeatedly stops during sleep.

'Breathing interruptions can happen 30 to 100 times a night, causing stress on the body,' Endsley said.

Endsley encourages patients who snore to seek out a sleep study to determine if sleep apnea is present.

'Many people are living with sleep apnea and don't know it,' Endsley said.

As a result of living with undiagnosed sleep apnea, many patients experience higher blood pressure, unexplained weight gain, extreme fatigue and a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of biochemical and physiological abnormalities associated with the development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, he said.

Authors on the study also found that, although many people reach for a nightcap to relax before bed, drinking alcohol is unhealthy for sleep because it limits the ability to achieve deep sleep.

 

Source: NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine. 'Common sleep myths compromise good sleep and health.' ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2019.