11 Myths About Sleep That Have Been Debunked By Science

It’s said that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, yet somehow it seems like not nearly enough. Much has been written about sleeping and dreaming, but not all of it passes a check test.

The more we learn about how and why we sleep, the more we understand that so much of what we take for common knowledge is anything but. Here are 11 myths about sleep that have been debunked by science.

You’re either a morning person or a night person

We tend to believe that there are two types of people: those who wake early and are happy about it and those who sleep late and stay up later. But studies in Russia have shown that it’s more of a three-way split between the early risers, the late ones, and those who don’t fit either criteria.

Moreover, the third group seems to be split between the ones who can function early or late and those who can’t seem to get the hang of either one. So if you’re not a morning person or an evening person, you’re not alone.

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Never, ever wake up a sleepwalking person!

We all know stories or urban legends about weird things people do when they’re sleepwalking. While some of it is accurate, one thing that’s not accurate is the idea that sleepwalkers should not ever be awakened.

The trouble is, people who sleepwalk are in such deep sleep that waking them is not easy. It’s far easier, in fact, to just lead them back into bed.

But it’s not true that waking up a sleepwalker will cause them more harm than good. What causes more harm is the amount of accidents while sleepwalking that occur.

And sleepwalking is more common than you think. According to research from Stanford University School of Medicine, 3.6% of American adults sleepwalk. That’s over 8.4 million people!

All insomnia is the same

If you have trouble sleeping, the first thing people tell you is how to fix it. Drink chamomile or take melatonin, for example. But insomnia isn’t just the inability to fall asleep. It also includes waking up every few hours, or sleeping but not achieving restfulness.

In a catch-22, stress and anxiety can cause sleeplessness, which leads to more stress and anxiety during wakeful hours. There’s no one right way to ease insomnia, but it should not be ignored either.

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You should sleep a full 8 hours straight

This myth is probably the most universally harmful, not because of the amount of sleep, but the idea behind it. It’s telling you that if you don’t get eight hours, no more and no less, there’s something wrong with you.

But sleep time is an individual setting. It’s even controlled in your genes. Some people can go for six hours a night and wake up refreshed.

Others can sleep half the night, wake up for an hour, and then finish their sleep afterwards.

What’s important is not that you get eight hours of sleep, but that you get enough sleep for you.

Can’t sleep? Count sheep!

It turns out, the one thing you don’t want to do when you’re trying to fall asleep is to give your brain more work to do. Counting sheep keeps your brain active and aware.

It’s far better to imagine something that doesn’t require counting, something soothing and repetitive. Think of a waterfall, or a sunny meadow. Take your brain to the beach and imagine the calmness.

Whatever you do, don’t make your tired brain do math. 

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REM is the most important kind of sleep

We know REM for two things: it’s the stage of sleep where dreams are made, and it’s a very popular music group. Concentrating on the first one, though, REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. Basically, when you dream, your eyes start darting back and forth.

But what’s less well known is that in order to get to that stage, you have to pass through three other sleep stages. The one right before REM is called delta sleep, and it’s very low and slow. It’s believed that delta sleep is when your brain clears out its new information and sorts it into long and short term memory.

This is the stage of sleep you need the most. It’s like clearing your browser of cookies so your brain can function better. So, while dreams are nice, what’s really vital is the part of sleep that comes just before.

Women need more sleep than men

This is a newer myth, based on some bad information that went viral. The Daily Mail reported that women need more sleep than men because their brains work harder.

“Women tend to multi-task  —  they do lots at once and are flexible  —  and so they use more of their actual brain than men do. Because of that, their sleep need is greater,” Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University said in the article.

The quote went viral, but it appears to be a theory of Horne’s rather than backed up by multiple studies. In fact, one study by the Finnish Social Insurance Institution found that men need 7.8 hours of sleep, while women need only 7.6 hours on average.

It seems men and women process sleep differently, but more research needs to be done on the area.

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Hitting the snooze button makes you feel more rested

Your alarm goes off but you feel too tired to get up immediately. So what do you do? You hit the snooze button. Five more minutes of sleep will do your body good, right?

Wrong. By waking up, then falling asleep again for just a few minutes, you’ve started a new sleep cycle that’s going to go unfinished. Repeatedly hitting the snooze button will cause sleep inertia, a groggy feeling caused by waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle.

Ever notice how tired you feel after hitting the snooze button a few times? It can take 30 minutes for your body to actually wake up when it’s been forced out of an unfinished sleep cycle.

In fact, by hitting that snooze button, we’re training our brains to ignore the alarm entirely. Hit snooze enough times and one morning you’ll sleep right through it, and again you’ll be in big trouble.

Use the snooze sparingly, and change up your alarm sounds often to keep your brain on its toes.

People swallow spiders in their sleep

What started out as a joke, a fake fact planted to show people how gullible they can be online, has become one of the biggest sleep urban legends out there. Basically, it says that the average person eats six to eight spiders every year while sleeping.

This went viral basically because it’s so ridiculous, and now it’s one of those “facts” everyone knows, like balancing an egg on its end during the equinox.

Frankly, the last place a spider wants to be is anywhere near your mouth. It’s moist, noisy, and moves, exactly the opposite of a spider’s ideal habitat. So you can sleep soundly on this one.

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Alcohol is a good sleep aid

Nothing like a shot to knock you out, right?

Wrong. Alcohol, while being a depressant, may relax you, but it’s not a good ingredient for a good night’s sleep. It interferes with your sleep cycle and lets you get far less restful rest than you would without it.

You won’t wake up refreshed; you’ll be anything but that. Also, your sleep may be interrupted by needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid.

We’re sleeping less now than at any time in history

Finally, it’s said that humans get less sleep now because of bright night lights and the ability to work longer in the day. Before electricity, you could work only as long as the sun was shining, unless you had candles to burn. This meant that there was a lot more sleeping going on, right?

Believe it or not, the opposite is true. Extra light at night means extra sleep in the morning. We’re not getting up at the crack of dawn anymore, unless work requires that we do.

And while worry, stress, and other problems can impact our sleep, we’re getting more sleep than we think we are. So you can rest assured, literally, that we’re not collectively losing sleep.

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