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Sleep myths and facts
Even with all the facts you've learned so far, I'm sure you still have some nagging doubts about the many stories you've heard about how others sleep, things you can do to get better sleep, and what sleep really does for you. Many of these tales are left over from before researchers began to study and understand sleep. Before we address how to improve your sleep habits, let's clear up some of the most common sleep myths.
You need less sleep as you get older
As children, many of us had grandparents who always seemed to be up at the crack of dawn, cleaning the house and making a glorious breakfast. So it seemed as if older people didn't need as much sleep as other adults.
This memory overlooks a couple of things: Grandma and Grandpa were probably in bed by 9 p.m., and they often disappeared in the early afternoon to take a nap. In truth, older people need just as much sleep as younger adults. They may have trouble getting it because they wake up more frequently during the night, but total sleep need does not decrease much with age.
Alcohol helps you sleep better
Alcohol is not an effective sleep aid. Its sedative effect may make you fall asleep faster, but it has a harmful effect on sleep quality that far outweighs this benefit. When alcohol is in your body, you get less of the deep sleep you need to wake up feeling refreshed, you're more likely to wake up during the night, and you're more likely to snore and experience other nocturnal breathing problems.
Snoring is annoying but harmless
There's no doubt that snoring is annoying. In some cases it is harmless, but in others it's a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing that prevent air from flowing into or out of a sleeping person's airways. Sleep apnea increases a person's risk of heart disease and causes severe daytime sleepiness. Snorers who temporarily stop breathing during the night or experience severe daytime sleepiness should consult a physician.
There's something wrong if you don't remember your dreams
Everybody dreams, but some people remember them and some don't. Not being able to recall your dreams is perfectly normal and has no negative health effects. Whether or not you remember your dreams is determined by when you wake up in relation to having those dreams. If you wake up during or just after a dream, you're likely to remember it; otherwise, you won't. It's just a matter of timing and has no bearing on sleep quality.
If you've never had much luck remembering your dreams but would like to, a few techniques can help. The trick is to try to recall them the moment you wake up -- letting time pass seems to function as an erase button on your mental VCR, especially if you fall back asleep. Keep a pen and pad on your nightstand and jot down notes about your dreams when you wake up, whether it's at your normal wake-up time or after waking during the night. If you do this every night for a week, there's a good chance you'll start regularly recalling your dreams.
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