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By Shelley Levitt - This article originally published on

For the sake of your health, it's time to discard these misconceptions in favor of science. Let's start with these five:

Everyone Needs Eight Hours of Sleep. Wake up to reality. Our sleep needs vary, experts say, with people thriving on anywhere from six to nine hour of shut-eye. “Eight hours is just an average and most people aren’t average,” says Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD, a psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver, Colo., and co-author of End the Insomnia Struggle: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep. And, as the National Institute on Aging points out, our sleep needs don’t change as we age, though we may get less sleep than we need because we have trouble falling asleep. “Disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day are not part of normal aging,” the Institute notes. If you’re having chronic sleep problems, see your doctor or a sleep specialist.

Drinking Eight Glasses of Water a Day is Essential. Bottoms up to this myth. As the University of Michigan Health System reports, there’s no science behind the advice to drink two daily quarts of water. It likely dates back to a 1945 U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that people need about 2.5 liters of water a day. What’s been overlooked was the sentence that most of that water will come from food. Fluids are plentiful in fruits and vegetables, as well as in coffee, tea and juice. Thirst, not counting ounces, is the best indicator that you need hydration (and water remains the healthiest beverage to quench that thirst). Your physician may encourage you to drink extra quantities of water if you have a medical issue such as kidney stones or diarrhea.

It’s Only What You Eat Not When You Eat That Impacts Your Health. As with most important things in life, timing matters when it comes to good eating habits. Research is beginning to recognize that restricting food consumption to a 12-hour cycle, counting from your first bite of breakfast, is an important component of a healthy diet. “Our bodies are designed to take in calories over 12 hours and fast for 12,” says Christopher Colwell, director of the UCLA Laboratory of Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Medicine Colwell.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever. Nonsense, says Philip Kern, MD, Department of Endocrinology/Metabolism at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The best strategy for both colds and fevers is rest and plenty of fluids. As for chicken soup as penicillin, there’s some truth to that old saw. Warm liquids are especially effective in opening up the nasal passages, Kern notes, which will make it easier to get the rest you need to recuperate.

It’s Safe to Follow the Five-Second Rule. We’ve all heard, and perhaps repeated, the treasured piece of folklore: it’s fine to eat food that dropped on the floor as long as you scoop it up quickly. Well, microbiologists at Rutgers University, put the premise under the microscope in a two-year study. They tested four surfaces—stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood and carpet—and four different foods: watermelon, bread, buttered bread and gummy candy. After treating the surfaces with bacteria similar to salmonella, they dropped the food from a height of five inches. There is no grace period, the researchers concluded: “Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously.” Thanks to its moisture, watermelon attracted the most bacteria, the dryer gummy candy the least.


1. Mortality Associated with Sleep Duration and Insomnia. Daniel F. Kripke, MD; Lawrence Garfinkel, MA; Deborah L. Wingard, PhD; Melville R. Klauber, PhD; Matthew R. Marler, PhD. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59(2):131-136.

2. The largest human cognitive performance dataset reveals insights into the effects of lifestyle factors and aging. Daniel A. Sternberg, Kacey Ballard, Joseph L. Hardy, Benjamin Katz, P. Murali Doraiswamy, Michael Scanlon. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2013; 7: 292. Published online 2013 Jun 20.

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