The Biggest Sleep Myths

Dr. Lee A. Surkin debunks the five biggest sleep myths — don’t let these misconceptions stop your patients from getting a healthy good night’s sleep!

800x400 surkinby Lee A. Surkin, MD, FACC, FCCP, FASNC, FAASM

During the last couple of decades, sleep science has developed remarkably, providing significant findings about the importance of sleep, how it is disrupted, and the biological mechanisms controlling sleep. However, although scientific knowledge and evidence have increased, many people still have some misconceptions about sleep mainly read online or heard by word-of-mouth.

Unfortunately, many of these sleep myths get so widely spread that people consider them as sleep facts. Usually, the belief in such sleep myths leads to poor sleep habits and lack of sleep. For that reason, experts have identified the most common sleep myths and provided the true sleep facts to help people get informed. So now, let’s get these sleep myths debunked!

Myth #1: The hours of sleep needed decrease with age

One of the major sleep myths people believe is that the older you get, the less sleep you need. However, sleep experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep each night for an average adult. This also applies to older people. Although they experience a change in their sleep patterns with less slow wave or deep sleep and less REM sleep with increased sleep fragmentation, they still need the same amount of sleep as younger adults. That’s why they typically nap during the day to compensate for the lack of sleep during the night.

Myth #2: The brain rests during sleep

Another popular sleep myth is that the brain rests during sleep. But, one of the mind-blowing facts about sleep is that the brain remains pretty active while the body rests during sleep. The brain indeed recharges during sleep but it still keeps control of many vital body functions, like breathing for example. Indeed, the brain remains active and is able to process information even in the deepest non-REM sleep stages when awakenings are difficult and the most restorative sleep occurs.

Myth #3: Daytime sleepiness means a lack of sleep

Next on the list of our sleep myths debunked is the one that says that daytime sleepiness always, with no exceptions, means that a person lacks sleep. In reality, excessive daytime sleepiness may be a medical condition or point to a sleep disorder like Narcolepsy, Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs Syndrome and associated Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep. Yes, these might be one of the mind-blowing facts about sleep, but the truth is that daytime sleepiness is one of the major symptoms of these sleep disorders.

Myth #4: In case of nighttime awakenings, just lie in bed

Here’s yet another of the sleep myths debunked – if you wake up in the middle of the night, you should lie in bed, toss and turn, and try to fall back asleep forcefully. Yet, this isn’t really a solution and may result in a lack of sleep and negative associations to their actual bed. Instead, you should try some relaxation or breathing techniques to induce sleep. If you are still unable to fall back asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and engage in another relaxing activity, like reading in dim light (do not use an electronic device or watch TV), in another room. Return to bed only when you feel sleepy.

Myth #5: Sleep apnea is just snoring

Last but not least, one of the clear facts is that sleep apnea isn’t just snoring. Mistakenly, people think of them as interchangeable. Snoring is a sign of airway resistance and is not always associated with sleep apnea.  Statistics show that nearly half of the population snores from time to time, whereas one in four adults snores chronically.1 Plus, about 20-40 million Americans suffer from OSA. So yes, they are connected, but not interchangeable.


Beside these 5 sleep myths, Dr. Surkin also has written on other topics that help the body restore and recharge, such as how heart health can be affected by poor sleep. Read more about it here:

lee a. surkin, mdLee A. Surkin, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Nexus Dental Systems. A private practitioner in cardiology, sleep medicine, and obesity medicine, he is one of a small group of physicians to be triple board certified in cardiology, sleep medicine, and nuclear cardiology. In 2009, he created Carolina Sleep – the only dedicated sleep medicine practice in eastern NC. Dr. Surkin has created a cardiovascular and sleep healthcare model that includes a multi-faceted diagnostic and treatment approach that is enhanced by a network of relationships with physicians, dentists, respiratory therapists, sleep technologists, and public officials who recognize the important role that sleep medicine has in our daily life. In 2012, Dr. Surkin founded the American Academy of Cardiovascular Sleep Medicine which is a not-for-profit academic organization dedicated to educating healthcare providers, supporting research, and increasing public awareness of the convergence between cardiovascular disease and sleep disorders. In 2014, Dr. Surkin created a new multi-specialty practice called Carolina Clinic for Health and Wellness which combines his specialties with primary care, gynecology, behavioral health and a medical spa. Dr. Surkin is married with three daughters and  a golden retriever and resides in Greenville, NC.

  1. J Davey MSc, M. (n.d.). Epidemiological study of snoring from a random survey of 1075 participants.

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