Why believing these 5 sleep myths can make you tired

Sleepy? If you're one of the 60 to 70 million Americans who can't seem to get a decent night's rest, there's a good chance that a myth or two may be keeping you up at night-or wiping you out during the day. Here, 5 common misconceptions that could rob you of precious shut-eye.

Myth 1: Many people are "short sleepers"

Fact: If you genuinely require less than 6 hours of sleep a night, you're a rarity. A just-discovered genetic mutation does enable some people to function okay on 20 to 25% less sleep than average, but-here's the catch-researchers estimate that fewer than 1% of people have the trait.

Energy fix: Two likely signs you're among the lucky short-sleeping crowd: You wake up regularly without an alarm clock, and at the same time every day-weekdays, weekends, vacations-says Emory University sleep expert David Schulman, MD. "But most of us need 7 to 8 hours of sleep to stay healthy."

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Myth 2: Exercise too close to bed keeps you up

Fact: That's not true for everyone. Research shows that even vigorous exercise right before bedtime doesn't cause trouble sleeping for many people (and in some cases it may help). This is good news if your busy schedule gives you a short window of time after work to squeeze in some activity.

Energy fix: Experiment. If you exercise at night and suspect that your workout may be keeping you up, reschedule it for earlier in the day for several days to see whether you sleep better.

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Myth 3: It's normal to nod off during a meeting

Fact: It's normal to feel slightly less energetic in the afternoon because of your body's natural circadian rhythms. But you shouldn't feel like your head's about to droop while your group VP is giving a 4 PM presentation or when your preschooler is explaining why Superman is better than Batman. If you feel tired during the day, you may be running a significant "sleep debt"-the total hours of sleep you've lost, one sleep-deprived night after another.

Energy fix: If your sleep is interrupted once in a while, one good night's sleep will help you feel refreshed. Chronic problems-stress, a snoring spouse, snuggling pets-will require specific solutions. But if you're cheating yourself of sleep time "to get things done," or if you just don't realize how much sleep you need, you have to adjust your bedtime.

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Myth 4: Just catch up on sleep on the weekend

Fact: Unless you have insomnia, it's theoretically possible to make up for some lost sleep by dozing longer on the weekend. But it's not realistic. With kids' birthday parties, sports practices, and all those inevitable weekend errands, chances are you won't really be able to make up for the sleep you missed, says William C. Dement, MD, PhD, the Stanford University scientist known as the father of sleep medicine.

Energy fix: Don't regularly skimp on weekday sleep. If you do happen to rack up an occasional sleep debt during the workweek, try to sleep later on the weekend or take a nap, Dement says.

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Myth 5: It doesn't matter when you go to sleep

Fact: Night owls are nearly 3 times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than early birds, one study found-even when they got the same total amount of sleep. Experts aren't sure exactly why, but there may be an optimal time within the 24-hour clock to fall asleep and wake up, says Lisa Shives, MD, sleep expert and founder of North Shore Sleep Medicine.

Energy fix: If you want to shift back your bedtime, start gradually: Head to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier every few days, and make sure the lights in your home are dim for about 2 hours before that time, says Shives. Then set your alarm to wake up 7 to 8 hours later.

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