12 truths about sleep

We do not need sleep

False. While science cannot be certain that every animal sleeps, evidence says that most of those in the animal kingdom do. Sleep is very important, especially for us, humans, in order to “recharge” and not suffer the consequences of “low-bat.”  Our mental acuity, rationality, concentration, quality of our decision, even attitude and performance, and above all, our sense of well-being are all dependent on how rested and relaxed we are each day. Lack of sleep and rest increases our risk for over-eating, obesity, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. This has been clinically proven, especially among those with untreated sleep apnea.

Weekend catch-up

Those with chronic sleep deprivation, say for 4 or 5 days, cannot make it up by sleeping over the week-end. And the more you lack sleep for days, repeatedly, your body builds up a “sleep debt,” which could be very difficult to compensate. A nightly restful sleep is essential for health and productivity.

Alcohol helps

One would think that a “sedative” like alcoholic beverage would help provide better quality sleep and rest, but, in fact, it only helps one to fall asleep faster (although it does the opposite among some individuals), but the sleep is less restorative. Alcohol interrupts the REM cycles and inhibits dreaming, and this impairs sleep and the ability to get a good restful slumber.

Going to bed earlier

Another myth claims going to bed earlier than your usual would help. That is not true. Forcing yourself to sleep counters your goal, because your body should be ready first. If your nightly routine is to go to bed at 9 PM or 10 PM, following the same schedule helps. Another strategy is to wait till you feel sleepy or tired. Intimacy helps the quality of sleep.

Four hours is enough

For seniors, especially in their 70s and older, and are retired, four hours might be enough, because they do not have to go to work and could take naps as they need to. For the younger ones, who are actively working daily, 7-9  hours of restful sleep would confer ample energy and maximal benefit for overall quality performance for the day. Individual need for sleep varies. As long as the person wakes up refreshed and rested, the sleep is adequate. Energy is power!

Sleep apnea is trivial

Anything that impairs sleep is not trivial. Sleep apnea, as I have stated in past columns, “is nothing to snore about.” This is a condition where the person, mostly but not all snorers, involuntarily stops breathing for prolonged periods while asleep and jolted to wakefulness due to severe lack of oxygen. These episodes happen dozens of times during the night, leading to chronic oxygen deficit, severe sleep deficit, and their complications in the form of serious diseases, including cancer. Deaths have been reported among undiagnosed or untreated individuals with sleep apnea. This effectively treatable condition (with the use of a CPAP machine during sleep, which is surprisingly comfortable) should be diagnosed and managed as early as possible before its ill-effects on health and complications develop.

Coffee does not hurt

That’s another myth. Caffeine, the main ingredient in coffee, tea, chocolate, etc., is a plant alkaloid (1,3,7-trimethylxnthine). Even for those avid coffee drinkers, caffeine at night impairs sleep to one degree or another. Everything and all other factors being equal, those who do not drink coffee at night get more restful sleep. Others cannot even take caffeine in the afternoon without sleep impairment at night. It takes our system 5-7 hours to break down 50 percent of the amount of caffeine we imbibe, so if one drinks caffeine at 1 PM, half of the caffeine is still in the body by 5 or 7 PM.

Bedtime snack is good

This popular notion is probably true, so long as it is 200 calories or less for pre-bedtime snack (total daily calories adjusted among diabetics). Carbohydrates with protein-rich food increase the level of tryptophan, especially in the brain, which is converted by the body to serotonin, the natural sleep inducing substance manufactured in the brain and 80-90 percent in the intestines. For those who are trying to lose weight, this snack is out.

Our brain sleeps with us

Not true. While it seems our heart contracts continuously without resting, it actually rests for about 0.8 seconds in between beats. On average, it beats about 80 per minute, 4,800 per hour, 115,200 a day, 42,048,000 a year, or 3,363,840,000 times for the lifetime of an 80-year-old person. Our brain, on the other hand, does not sleep while we sleep. It is always on, working vigilantly, but also “recharging” as it maintains and protects our bodily function, like circulation, breathing, etc.

Naps are a waste of time

For those who have the time and luxury for a nap, it is a healthy habit. In Spain, it is called siesta, in Italy, riposo, in the Philippines, idlip. Nap is an accepted part of the culture in the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, and in countries like the Philippines, Greece, Spain, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Nigeria,  Not all naps provide a refreshing rest. A 20-minute siesta would provide a refreshing boost in energy and mental acuity, but a longer one might cause mental drowsiness and sense of fatigue.

The television helps

This myth is wrong. Watching the television does not help. Peace of mind is fundamental. It excites our brain so much, ii impairs the quality of rest we get. We should avoid watching the TV at least an hour before going to bed. The same thing is true with cellphones, computers, and other digital gadgets. This rule applies even more so for children. Another distraction to avoid is light, especially the blue light from our digital gadgets

Not sleepy, stay in bed

Wrong. When one could not sleep, for any reason, even among insomniacs, one may stay in bed so long as they feel comfortable and relaxed. If this pleasant feeling lingers, then remain in bed till you fall asleep. However, if the inability to fall asleep is prolonged, laying awake for half an hour or more, and is giving you anxiety and frustration, it is best to get out of bed and do your favorite chores even in the middle of the night. Some of the best personal projects are accomplished this way.


Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

Email Email  |  Print Print

Leave a Reply