We all need it, and most of us could use more.
We’re talking about sleep.
It is estimated that we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, yet it remains a mysterious process.
Night after night, we shut down for several hours during sleep, and everything from hormone release to tissue repair goes on in our bodies without us even noticing it.
Our brains generate dreams that many of us can hardly remember or make sense of.
There are also nightmares, sleep disorders, and so much more.
“We still have so much to learn about why we sleep, and how sleep works,”
writes clinical psychologist Michael J. Breus in a Psychology Today article.
Because there is still so much that is unknown
about sleeping, it is understandable that myths about sleep have emerged over the years.
We will discuss some of these myths in this
12 myths about sleep that you didn’t know.
12. People who are not early risers are not living right.
There has been much debate over who is better off in life – early risers (“larks”) or late risers (“night owls”). It turns out that your health and success in life are not determined solely by what time of the morning you get up.
According to a BBC article, there is a study that “showed that night owls are as healthy and wise as morning types – and a little bit wealthier.”
Examples of successful night owls include Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti, author James Joyce, and Winston Churchill.
And not everyone is meant to be an early riser.
What determines whether you are or not is
something called a chronotype.
Sleep expert Dr. Colleen Carney describes it as a “’sleep window inside of us.’”
She explains that “’it is genetic” and “developmental factors” also play a role.
For instance, young children tend to go to sleep earlier and rise earlier, but the internal sleep clock shifts in puberty so that teens want to sleep later and rise later.
11. Getting less than 8 hours of sleep a night is bad for you.
While some people need 8 hours of sleep to
feel refreshed, other people can get by with a little less sleep.
You might even live longer if you sleep a little less.
A 2002 study of 1.1 million participants betweenbthe ages of 30 and 102 revealed that
“those who had six or seven hours had a lower death rate than those who regularly slept eight
or more hours – or less than four.”
The mortality rate creeps up for people who
sleep too little or too much.
The NHS discusses studies that link a “’short’
sleep” of less than 6 hours to a “12% increased risk of death” and a “’long’ sleep” of 9 or more hours to a “30% increased risk of death.”
However, the NHS cautions that sleep needs
vary by age and other factors, so don’t
think you are more likely to die early if you “do not follow the ’standard’ pattern for sleep.”
10. When you wake up at night, you lose sleep for only the amount of time you were awake.
Getting up for even 15 minutes in the middle
of the night can cause you to wake up feeling
As anyone who has cared for a newborn can tell you, you will feel even more fatigued if you wake up several times a night.
According to one source, a 2014 study of people who had 8 hours of interrupted sleep and those who had only 4 hours of sleep showed that “the mood and attention of folks with interrupted sleep were just as bad as those who slept for only four hours.”
Depression and irritability were common in
both groups, and their ability to perform an attention task “got worse the longer they kept at it.”
9. Cats will suck the breath out of an infant while the infant sleeps.
This myth has its origins in superstition and a few accounts of infants who were found dead with a pet cat on their chests or faces.
According to Snopes, one theory for why cats
do this is because they are jealous of the attention that the baby is receiving, and the cat wants to eliminate the competition.
Snopes acknowledges that cats could “upon
extremely rare instances accidentally cause
a death” by smothering, but cats do not do it “with malice aforethought.”
It also turns out that two accounts of infants
suffocated by cats turned out not to be true.
One case presented in a 1929 article in the
Nebraska State Journal was emphatically denied by the doctor who supposedly described the incident.
In the December 2000 case of six-week-old
Keiron Payne who was found dead “in his crib with the family cat laying on the baby’snface,” pathologists discovered that it was not the cat but sudden infant death syndrome that killed him.
8. Eating cheese before bedtime gives you nightmares.
There have been a few studies to determine
the accuracy of this myth, and the results
In a 2015 study of 396 freshman college students, 17.8% of them blamed cheese and other dairy products for “causing both disturbing and bizarre dreams.”
However, a 2005 study of 200 people by the
British Cheese Board showed “none reported
nightmares and many had pleasant night reveries” according to a Live Science article.
Different cheeses had different effects on
dreams, with Blue stilton producing the “trippiest dreams” of things like “warrior kittens” and “vegetarian crocodiles.”
This limited research seems to indicate that
eating cheese before bedtime may cause a few
people to have bad dreams but not everyone
else, but is ultimately likely nothing more
than a placebo effect caused by people knowing ahead of time about the myth.
7. Feeling tired is the only long-term effect of not getting enough sleep.
While weariness is an obvious consequence of sleep deprivation, it is not the only one.
A Business Insider article describes some other negative health effects of a lack of sleep, including “memory problems, increased cancer risk, depression and anxiety, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s linked buildups in the brain.”
Deprive yourself of too much sleep, and you
In 2012, Time reported that a “Chinese soccer
fan died from exhaustion after staying up 11 nights in a row in an attempt to watch every single European Championship game.”
Keep that in mind the next time you want to
binge watch Stranger Things.
6. Sleeping pills are a good way to deal with insomnia.
It is tempting to take a sleeping pill if you are having trouble falling asleep, but you are better off not doing it.
First of all, sleeping pills do not really help you sleep.
In his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, UC Berkeley neuroscience and psychology professor Matthew Walker argues that people who take sleeping pills like Ambien are “sedated” rather than sleeping.
It is not the same type of rest that we get
when we fall asleep on our own.
Second, it is important to keep in mind that
sleeping pills, like any other medication, pose health risks for those taking them.
According to an Independent article, “some
research indicates that zolpidem (Ambien)
may weaken the brain cell connections associated with learning — it may be causing memory damage over time.”
Sleep expert Dr. Daniel Kripke states that
the risk of death “from taking sleeping pills 30 times or more a month was not much less than the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.”
5. You should never wake a sleepwalker.
People are afraid to wake up sleepwalkers
because of stories that doing so could harm
One sleep website states “urban legend suggests that waking a sleepwalker could cause a heart attack, coma, or even brain damage” but also describes these outcomes as “highly unlikely.”
One common recommendation for dealing with
a sleepwalker is to try to guide the sleepwalker
back to bed because this is easier than waking
a sleepwalker up.
As sleep specialist Dr. Mark Mahowald says
in a Live Science article, “while it wouldn’t
necessarily hurt to try to wake a sleepwalker
. . . it’s notoriously difficult to rouse them in this state.”
Some sleepwalkers may react violently to being
awakened, so if you decide to wake up a sleepwalker, make sure you do it out of their reach with a loud noise so that you don’t get hit accidentally.
4. The moon affects people’s sleep cycles.
This myth has been passed off as fact in a
number of news articles.
There have been a few studies about this issue,
but they are problematic.
According to a Live Science article, there was a 1999 study suggesting that people tended to suffer “’sleep deprivation around the time of full moon,’” but there is no evidence that the findings of the study “had been tested or verified with any numbers or rigorous study of any kind.”
Other recent studies provided contradictory
One small study of 33 volunteer adults in
2013 found that the participants “slept less during the full moon even when they could not see the moon and were not aware of the current lunar phase,” while another “broad
review of sleep-moon research” in 2014 by
the Max-Plank Institute of Psychiatry revealed
“no statistically significant correlation
between the lunar cycle and sleep.”
3. You swallow eight spiders per year when you sleep.
You’ll probably be relieved to know this myth has been debunked by spider experts.
According to a Scientific American article, the “myth flies in the face of both spider and human biology.”
Rod Crawford, the arachnid curator at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture,
explains that “’a sleeping person is not something a spider would willingly approach.’”
This is especially true if the person is snoring.
The noise would scare it away.
In addition, most people would feel a spider
crawling on their faces and wake up.
While it is certainly possible for a person
to swallow a spider, there’s a “sore lack of eyewitnesses for such a frequent event as eight spiders a year.”
2. Humans can’t sleep upright.
It is not easy, but it is possible for humans to sleep upright.
In a BBC article, sleep expert Derk-Jan Dijk said, “’We can sleep in a chair.
We can sleep standing up but we are not as
good at it as other creatures, for example birds.”
There is some support for Dijk’s statement.
It is common practice for Buddhist monks to
They have a special “meditation box” that
allows them to sit up and sleep in a posture that supposedly helps them wake up refreshed.
There are also anecdotal stories of people who are able to sleep standing up.
BBC reports that “soldiers on sentry duty are among those who have been known to take
40 winks standing up.”
The main problem with both types of upright
sleeping is that it is difficult to reach REM sleep, but not reaching REM sleep in this
situation might be good in terms of safety.
You lose muscle tone when you are in REM sleep, so you might find yourself falling down unless you have something to prop you up.
1. People can’t sleep with their eyes open.
This myth is not true. According to one source, a condition callednocturnal lagophthalmos can cause people to sleep with their eyes open.
Their eyes may be fully or partially open
because of an inability for the eyelid to close completely.
It is “considered a form of facial paralysis” brought on by a variety of factors, including
“Bell’s palsy, infection, stroke, surgery, and trauma.”
Sleeping with eyes open also occurs in instances of sleepwalking.
A Psychology Today article notes that “sleep
walking usually is an eyes open behavior.”
Sleepwalkers need to have their eyes open
to be able to get around and perform routine
tasks such as eating and even driving!
One source describes how sleep drivers “may
look glassy and dazed, but they can still literally see things in front of them.”
Are there any unusual sleep myths that we missed?
Let us know in the comments!