Science

Roundup: Top Sleep Health Myths Online; Phone Scams and Dementia; and Latest on Skipping Breakfast

These Common Sleep Myths Could Hurt Your Health, Researchers Find

People can do fine with five or fewer hours of sleep every night, right? Wrong. Snoring is always harmless, right? Wrong. And having an alcoholic drink can be a good thing because it helps you fall asleep, right? Wrong.

These are some of the myths about sleep health that are commonly found on the Internet, according to researchers from NYU School of Medicine who reviewed more than 8,000 websites to identify the 20 most common assumptions, or misconceptions, about sleep.

Assisted by a team of sleep medicine experts, they ranked these assumptions based on whether each could be dispelled as a myth or supported by scientific evidence, and on the harm that the myth could cause. The new study was published this week in Sleep Health.

“Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and general health and well-being,” says study lead investigator, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health. “Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health.”

The claim by some people that they can get by on just five hours of sleep was the top myth unveiled by researchers based on scientific evidence. Sleep experts say this myth also poses the most serious risk to one’s health from long-term sleep deficits.

Start a “consistent sleep schedule and spending more time, at least seven hours, asleep,” the researchers said. Also, avoid taking naps when you routinely have difficulty sleeping overnight, they said. Additionally, snoring fueled additional myths. Primarily this one: Snoring can be normal. However, chronic snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder

Here are the top five myths and corrected misconception, according to the new study:

Myth: Adults need 5 hours of sleep or less.
Fact: Experts recommend 7 to 8 hours a night for optimal health.

Myth: Drinking alcohol before bed will help you fall asleep.
Fact: It may help you fall asleep, but alcohol dramatically reduces the quality of sleep. It can regularly pull you out of the deep-state of sleep. Moreover, drinking alcohol regularly has it own set of risks to your overall health.

Myth: Watching TV in bed helps you relax before sleep.
Fact: These devices, TV or computer screens, emit bright “blue light” which you need to avoid before bed, partly because it can keep you from a restful sleep and might create stress at the most vulnerable time — when you need to fall asleep.

Myth. It’s best to stay in bed and try to sleep.
Fact: It takes about 15 minutes, on average, for the healthy sleeper to fall asleep. Anything more than 15 minutes might require you to do something light and unstressful before getting back into bed.

Myth: Hitting the snooze button is better than getting up right away.
Fact: Resist the temptation to snooze because your body will attempt to get back to sleep — and it will amount to very light and low quality sleep anyway.

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Seniors’ Vulnerability to Phone Scams Could Be Sign of Dementia: Study

New research indicates that older adults who usually fall victim to phone scams may be at risk for eventually developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Financial crimes committed callers or telemarketers targeting the elderly is widespread, but the new study does not mean that all people who are victims to these con artists are at risk for dementia.

However, researchers say that memory problems related to Alzheimer may be preceded by lapses in thinking and judgment. Within a group of nearly 1,000 older adults from the Chicago area who were not showing any signs of dementia, those with little to no awareness of telephone fraud proved to be at higher risk for mild cognitive decline and, possibly Alzheimer’s disease — compared with those that had a greater awareness of potential cons, according to the study, published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Over the course of the study, 151 participants (or 16.1%) developed Alzheimer’s, and 255 (or 34.2%) developed mild cognitive impairment.

The study’s authors concluded: “Low scam awareness among older persons is a harbinger of adverse cognitive outcomes and is associated with Alzheimer disease pathology in the brain.”

“Social cognition — social judgment — involves a diverse array of functions,” said Patricia Boyle, lead author of the study and a neurological psychologist at Rush University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center. This “complicated behavior involves and integrates multiple different abilities …” The ability to determine if someone is trustworthy is an social cognition, she says.

“When a con artist approaches an older person, they’re looking for a social vulnerability—someone who is open to having a conversation with a complete stranger,” said Ms. Boyle.

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Skipping Breakfast and Late Dinner is Unhealthy Combo for Heart Attack Survivors

Skipping breakfast has been the subject of numerous health-related debates. The consensus among dietitians is to avoid skipping that first meal to avoid overeating later in the day. 

New research takes the negative impact on your health to a new level. A new study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology this week found that people who skip breakfast — and eat a late dinner — have much worse health issues after surviving a heart attack.

The study found that heart attack survivors who did both — skipping breakfast and eating late into the evening — were four to five times more likely to die, suffer another heart attack, or feel chest pain within 30 days after leaving the hospital.

“Our research shows that the two eating behaviors are independently linked with poorer outcomes after a heart attack, but having a cluster of bad habits will only make things worse,” wrote study author Marcos Minicucci, M.D., of São Paulo State University in Brazil. He also warned that, “People who work late may be particularly susceptible to having a late supper and then not being hungry in the morning.”

The study involved 113 patients with an average age of 60, with 73 percent being men. Patients were asked about eating habits after being admitted to a coronary intensive care unit. Skipping breakfast was defined as nothing before lunch — and excluding beverages, such as coffee and water —  at least three times per week. 

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