Do you often have difficulty sleeping and struggle with a sleep disorder and addiction? Learn about 10 common sleep disorder myths and how to treat these conditions.

Many Americans are impacted by sleep problems that reduce the amount and quality of their sleep. If problems become a regular occurrence, individuals may be diagnosed with a sleep disorder. Common sleep disorders include: 

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep-wake disorders
  • Narcolepsy
  • Hypersomnia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Sleep apnea

Sleep disorders statistics estimate that up to 70 million adults in the United States struggle with sleep issues. Certain conditions are better understood than others, but there are still many myths about sleep disorders as a whole. In order to have an accurate understanding of sleep disorders, several common myths must be debunked. 

Fact: Sleep disorders are often related to other health conditions.

People may develop sleep conditions first and secondary conditions later. Conversely, individuals may have pre-existing conditions and develop sleep disorders as a result. It is often the case that sleep disorders impact other health conditions or vice versa. For example, insomnia is a common sleep disorder, and depression and anxiety can be caused by it. Anxiety and depression can also lead to the development of sleep disorders like insomnia. Sleep disorders and hypertension have also been linked together.

Hypersomnia is another sleep disorder that causes excessive tiredness, and it can be exacerbated by conditions like epilepsy and obesity. Restless leg syndrome is associated with iron deficiency, alcohol and caffeine use, pregnancy and the use of antidepressants. More often than not, sleep disorders are usually caused by other conditions.

Myth #2: The older you get, the less sleep you need

Fact: Older adults still require adequate sleep.

It is a common myth that older adults do not need a lot of sleep. While it is true that older adults need less sleep than younger people, they still need adequate sleep. Sleep needs by age vary substantially. The National Sleep Foundation currently recommends that adults aged 18 to 24 should sleep between seven to nine hours per night. Older adults aged 65 and older should sleep between seven to eight hours per night. 

These recommendations debunk the myth that older adults hardly need any sleep. While this may be true for certain individuals, most older adults function best with seven or eight hours of quality sleep per night. 

Myth #3: Snoring is a common problem, but it isn’t harmful

Fact: Snoring can be a sign of a serious health condition known as sleep apnea.

Is snoring during sleep harmful? Sleep apnea causes snoring, and is characterized by brief periods of not breathing due to temporary airway obstruction. Sleep apnea has various causes, including:

  • Obesity
  • Having large tonsils
  • Disorders of the endocrine system
  • Problems affecting the neuromuscular system
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Being born prematurely. 

Individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for developing subsequent complications. Some of these include:

  • Asthma 
  • Cancer
  • Learning disabilities (children)
  • Glaucoma
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy 
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Thus, snoring can have detrimental effects on your health if sleep apnea goes untreated. 

Myth #4: You can cheat the amount of sleep you get

Fact: There is no way to “cheat” getting the proper amount of sleep. 

The concept of sleep debt involves not attaining the proper amount of sleep over the course of a few days. Sleep debt builds each day that a person goes without enough sleep and can have severe consequences. Several studies link sleep deprivation and sleep debt to mood problems, including anxiety and depression. 

A study conducted in 2018 found that there may be an association between sleep debt and anger or irritability. Even if a person does not experience mood swings from chronic sleep deprivation, other studies have shown that brain regions are physically affected by a lack of sleep. Important brain receptors lose sensitivity when an individual experiences sleep deprivation. Additionally, communication between brain regions is altered by a lack of sleep. 

From a scientific point of view, there is no way to cheat when it comes to getting an adequate amount of sleep. 

Myth #5: Insomnia is only characterized by difficulty falling asleep

Fact: Insomnia is characterized as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Insomnia refers to a sleep disorder that involves difficulty falling asleep, waking throughout the night (inability to stay asleep) or awakening too early in the morning. Short-term insomnia impacts nearly 30% of United States adults while chronic or long-term insomnia impacts 10% of adults. Other insomnia characteristics include:

  • Daytime tiredness
  • Not feeling refreshed upon waking
  • Low energy throughout the day
  • Feeling agitated or irritable 
  • Poor concentration
  • High stress levels

Myth #6: Daytime sleepiness means a person isn’t getting enough sleep

Fact: Depending on the sleep disorder, daytime sleepiness does not mean a person isn’t sleeping enough.

Sometimes, individuals may feel excessively tired during the day because they had poor-quality sleep the night before (e.g., insomnia). In other cases, an individual feels extremely tired even though they received the recommended amount of sleep. 

Narcolepsy and hypersomnia are two conditions that cause excessive daytime sleepiness. Some individuals may experience more severe symptoms, including random loss of muscle control (cataplexy) as well as sleep paralysis and hallucinations when falling asleep and waking up. 

Additional causes of excessive daytime sleepiness include: 

  • Sleep apnea
  • Not getting a good quality sleep
  • Certain health conditions
  • Prescription medications

If someone feels extremely tired during the day, it does not mean they are not sleeping well at night.

Myth #7: It’s best to stay in bed when you can’t sleep

Fact: Sometimes, leaving bed is recommended until you feel tired.

Creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help a person wind down before bed. However, if an individual cannot fall asleep or continually wakes during the night, there are several tips the National Sleep Foundation recommends for struggling individuals:

  • Create a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a bath, reading or meditating about 30 minutes before bed
  • Avoid using screens like computers or cell phones, playing loud music or anything that has a stimulating effect before bed
  • After 20 minutes of trying to fall asleep, leave the bedroom and do something relaxing until you feel tired again in a separate space
  • Train your brain to not associate the bed/bedroom with wakefulness. Do this by leaving the environment if you cannot sleep or do not feel tired 
  • Go to bed and wake up every day (even weekends) at the same time to establish consistent sleep-wake cycles

Myth #8: Lost sleep can be made up on the weekends

Fact: You cannot make up for lost sleep by sleeping more on the weekends.

According to the National Institutes of Health, an individual cannot make up for their sleep debt by simply making up for lost sleep on weekends. Although adults are recommended to get at least seven hours of sleep per night, many report not sleeping the recommended amount. 

In a study conducted in 2019, the effects of sleep deprivation on an individual’s metabolism were assessed. This study found that in the study group with chronic sleep deprivation, sensitivity to insulin decreased substantially in a two-week period. Additionally, another study group with chronic sleep deprivation was allowed to sleep extra on the weekends to “make up” for lost sleep. This group still had decreased insulin sensitivity like the group with chronic sleep deprivation alone, despite making up for lost sleep.  

These results suggest that there are real and detrimental physical effects to sleep deprivation that cannot be counteracted by sleeping in on weekends. 

Myth #9: Watching TV helps you fall asleep

Fact: Using screens before bed can stimulate your brain, making you less tired.

Unfortunately, looking at your cell phone or watching TV will not help you fall asleep. In fact, using these devices can actually stimulate brain activity, making individuals feel more awake. 

There are correlations between TV and sleep problems or disorders. A study conducted in 2017 found that children who used devices or watched TV before bed were more likely to be tired in the morning. Additionally, watching television or using devices before bed was associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) in both children and adolescents. 

Adults and children should turn off or leave screens in a place separate from their sleeping environments. This can help individuals attain quality sleep and relieve pre-existing sleep disorders. 

Myth #10: Drinking helps you fall asleep

Fact: Alcohol can negatively affect sleep quality. 

Does drinking to go to sleep actually help? In some instances, alcohol may help an individual fall asleep due to its ability to make people feel drowsy. However, alcohol can actually cause a person to have poor quality sleep later in the night. This is not a good trade-off when it comes to feeling rested in the morning. Therefore, alcohol and sleep are not a good mixture, as it affects sleep-wake cycles and can result in an individual not getting enough deep sleep

If you or a loved one is struggling with a sleep disorder and a co-occurring addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Contact a representative today to discuss therapy options for treating sleep disorders and addiction together.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet.” May 14, 2019. Accessed June 17, 2019.

American Sleep Association. “Sleep and Sleep Disorder Statistics.” (n.d.). Accessed June 5, 2019.

Fuller, Caitlyn, Lehman, Eric, et al. “Bedtime Use of Technology and Associated[…]roblems in Children.” Global Pediatric Health, October 27, 2017. Accessed June 5, 2019.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “Sleep Apnea.” (n.d.). Accessed June 5, 2019.

National Institutes of Health. “Weekend catch-up can’t counter chronic sleep deprivation.” March 12, 2019. Accessed June 5, 2019.

National Sleep Foundation. “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” 2019. Accessed June 5, 2019.

National Sleep Foundation. “What to do When You Can’t Sleep?” (n.d.). Accessed June 5, 2019.

Saghir, Zahid, Sayeda, Javeria, et al. “The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivat[…]Possible Connection?” Cureus, July 2018. Accessed June 5, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.