Debunking 5 Common Myths About Sleep

Radhika Sivadi

3 min read ·


When running your own business starts to feel like more than a
full-time job, one of the first things to take a hit is sleep. While
sacrificing a good night's rest might seem to be par for the course for
entrepreneurs, too little shuteye could soon hurt your business.

You may believe you can function on less sleep than you need, catch
up on the weekends or compensate by drinking more coffee. If only it was
so simple. Here are five common beliefs about sleep and why they aren't
really so:

Sleep is just a way to let your brain rest. 

People often think the brain is resting when they sleep, but it is
actually more active at night than during the day, says Jim Maas, author
of Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep But Are Too Tired to Ask,
(AuthorHouse, 2010) and CEO of Sleep for Success, a consulting business
based in Fort Worth, Texas. During sleep, your cardiovascular system
and brain are doing a lot of work when it comes to creativity, critical
thinking and memory. For example, short-term memories get registered and
stored in the brain during sleep. "There's a physical change in the
brain that happens only as a product of adequate sleep," Maas says.

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I can get used to sleeping less.

If you believe you can condition yourself to operate on less sleep,
you're wrong. When you are chronically sleep deprived, your mental
performance declines, says Phil Gehrman, assistant professor of clinical
psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Penn
Sleep Center. "We lose the ability to accurately judge how impaired we
are." A 2003 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and
Harvard Medical School found that chronically reducing sleep time to six
hours or less per night hurt cognitive performance as much as staying
awake for as many as two nights straight. "You're going to lose the
ability to focus; you have a greater likelihood of making mistakes; and
you'll have greater risk taking behavior," says Michael Breus, a
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan (Rodale 2011).

I can catch up on the weekends. 

Recent studies show that if you don't get enough sleep during the
workweek, sleeping in on the weekend won't easily make up for it. If you
lost about two hours of sleep for five nights straight, Gehrman says,
you would need to tack an extra 10 hours onto two full nights of sleep.
And that's highly unlikely. Without that much extra sleep on the
weekend, you will start the next week just as depleted as you were at
the end of the previous week, he says. What's more, even if you did
catch up on your sleep on the weekend, it won't undo the damage done in
terms of lost productivity. 

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Coffee is a substitute for lack of sleep.

There's no doubt that caffeine is a potent antidote for drowsiness. It
inhibits adenosine, the chemical in the brain that makes us feel sleepy,
but it can only go so far. Coffee might help you feel more awake, but
your body doesn't get the same nourishment from caffeine that it gets
from sleep. This means your thinking speed and ability to move through
problems and situations will still be impaired, says Breus. "It keeps
you awake and moving around, but it doesn't replace the need for sleep,"
he says. "Your body doesn't heal; your memory doesn't get better."
What's more, besides making you jittery, excessive caffeine can also
cause you to feel even sleepier than before when it starts to wear off,
Gehrman says.

Sleeping longer will make me gain weight.

You might think being in bed for longer will make you less active and
cause weight gain, but the opposite is true. A 2011 University of
Chicago study found that lack of sleep affects metabolism and can lead
to obesity. Ghrelin and leptin, the hormones in your brain that cause
you to feel hungry, actually increase in your body with less sleep, Maas
says. And when we are tired and sleep deprived, we tend to have
cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, Gehrman says.

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Radhika Sivadi