Health & Wellness
Dream On

Dream On

Myths and facts about sleep
By Julie Edwards

Sleep is something we all do and we all need, regardless of age or gender. However, the ability to get a good night’s sleep is often surrounded by inconsistent information, so we asked local sleep medicine experts to separate the myths from the facts.

There is no such thing as “normal” sleep.

MYTH. Alan Lankford, Ph.D., a board-certified sleep medicine specialist and president of The Sleep Disorders Center of Georgia, says there is a general definition for “normal” sleep. “Normal sleep is based on duration and quality—if you can fall asleep in 30 minutes or less, sleep for 7 to 9 hours each night and can obtain the proper amount of restorative sleep, your sleep pattern is considered normal,” Dr. Lankford says.

Not getting enough sleep can make you sick.

FACT. Research now supports the belief that immune function goes haywire with sleep deprivation, says Jeffrey S. Durmer, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of FusionSleep Sleep Medicine Program. “Many studies also point to skyrocketing increases in heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes as the cause of death, but in many cases, sleep loss and sleep disorders are the underlying culprit,” he adds. In addition, sleepy people have more accidents at home, on the road and at work, and life-long learning and memory problems can be caused, or made much worse, by poor sleep.

You can “catch up” on sleep by napping.

FACT. “In most cases, naps can be beneficial when they are related to temporary sleep loss created by occasional stress, reversible environmental issues or life changes,” Dr. Durmer says. “However, when naps become a regular part of life in order to ‘catch-up’ on a sleep debt that continues to mount, it often signifies a correctable sleep problem.”

Snoring is normal.

MYTH. According to the experts at Northside Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center, although snoring is a common problem, it can be indicative of a much more serious issue:sleep apnea, a condition where someone stops breathing during sleep for more than 10 seconds at a time. More than 18 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea. If you have symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness, waking up in the morning not feeling rested, or changes in your level of attention, concentration, or memory, along with snoring and pauses in breathing when you sleep, you should see a board-certified sleep medicine physician to be assessed for sleep apnea as soon as possible.

Some people do not dream.

MYTH. Some people may report that they simply “do not dream,” but this is not likely the case, Dr. Durmer says. Dreaming is an expression of brain function that changes with age, experiences, learning and disease states. “When otherwise healthy people say they do not dream, what they’re really saying is that they do not remember their dreams,” Dr. Durmer says. “The memory trace provided by a dream is fleeting in many cases, and unless it is injected with strong emotion, may easily be forgotten.”

Eight hours of sleep each night is the recommended amount to be well rested.

FACT. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night; however, most people average less than that. If you feel drowsy during the day or if you routinely fall asleep within 5 minutes of lying down, you are probably among the sleep deprived and should take a closer look at your sleep hygiene. Simple lifestyle changes can help you get a better night’s sleep and feel more rested.

Caffeine will keep me awake.

FACT. According to Dr. Durmer, caffeine is a chemical that can “block” another chemical in the brain called adenosine that works to make you sleepy. “When you block the effects of adenosine you notice ‘wakefulness’ and even ‘jitteriness’ which is an overstimulation of your nervous system due to the imbalance created by blocking the sleep system,” he adds. Dr. Lankford also notes that the effects of caffeine are longer lasting that most people realize—up to 4 to 6 hours following ingestion—so if caffeine affects your sleep, you should avoid consumption within 6 hours of your bedtime.

You can “train” yourself to need less sleep.

MYTH. “The amount of sleep you need is ‘hardwired,’ and studies have shown 90 percent of adults need 7 to 9 hours per night,” Dr. Lankford says. If you choose to sleep less, you may be able to compensate by napping or other means, however, the long-term effects of inadequate sleep can cause health issues.

Some people are light sleepers and some people are heavy sleepers.

FACT. The experts at Northside Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center note there are five natural stages of sleep during a typical good night’s rest:
• Stage 1: drowsiness
• Stage 2: light sleep
• Stages 3 and 4: deep sleep
• Stage 5: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
Approximately 50 percent of a night’s sleep is spent in Stage 2 sleep, 30 percent in Stages 3 and 4 and 20 percent in Stage 5; however, as we age, we sleep more lightly and get less deep and REM sleep.

Waking up at night means you have insomnia.

MYTH AND FACT. If you wake up at night, cannot return to sleep within 45 minutes, and this recurs over multiple nights, you may have a sleep disorder such as insomnia and should see your primary care physician for further evaluation. However, Dr. Lankford says that waking up less than six times a night, and being able to return to sleep within 10 minutes or less, is normal and will not impact your quality of sleep.

Older people don’t need as much sleep.

MYTH. The experts at Northside Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center say that, as we age, our bodies go through many physical changes that may affect our ability to go to sleep and stay asleep, but that does not change our need for sleep. Research shows that our sleep needs (7 to 9 hours a night) remain constant throughout adulthood; however, environmental and physical factors such as medical conditions, medications and even stress all may lead to interrupted sleep.


Expert Advice

Snoring is very common, but it is not normal. Snoring can be a sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). The more severe forms of OSA are associated with hypertension, heart failure, heart attacks, strokes and can predispose the patient to developing diabetes. If your bed partner snores, get him or her to see a sleep doctor.
Michael Rinow, M.D., Diplomate Sleep Medicine ABSM and ABIM, medical director of Complete Health Sleep Diagnostics


The experts at Northside Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center offer these tips to help you get the good night’s sleep you deserve:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, including weekends.
  • Take a warm bath, drink a cup of warm milk or read a book to help you relax.
  • Leave worries at the bedroom door.  If you’re concerned about something, make a list of the steps you’ll take to solve the problem.
  • Don’t nap during the day for more than 20 minutes or on a regular basis.
  • Create an environment that is conducive to sleep and comfortable for you. • Don’t read, watch TV or do work in bed for an extended time—you want to associate getting into bed with going to sleep.
  • Finish eating at least 2 to 3 hours before your regular bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly, but finish at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime.



According to Dr. Lankford, the newer sleep medications such as Rozerem, Lunesta and Ambien have all been extensively tested for nightly, long-term use and are appropriate therapy for certain professionally diagnosed sleep disorders. Dr. Lankford does caution, however, about using melatonin or over-the-counter sleep medicines long-term, and advises consulting with your doctor if you have problems getting to sleep and staying asleep for more than a few days.