Fact or Fiction? 10 sleep myths debunked

Fact or Fiction? 10 sleep myths debunked

Jun 12, 2023
Liz Tabron

Sleep is complex and interesting and when you really think about it, it is a little strange that we all fall asleep for several hours every night. Sometimes you may fall into a blissful slumber as soon as your head hits the pillow and other nights you may toss and turn, there are times we remember our dreams and other times we don’t. 

These aren’t the only odd things about sleep and it’s common to encounter misinformation online, which if believed, can lead to poor sleep habits. In this blog we look into some well-known sleep myths, as well as some rather weird ones too, and separate fact from fiction.

We all need 8 hours of sleep every night

You may wonder if you can get by on 6 hours of sleep a night or should you aim to get that much-coveted 8 hours in order to feel refreshed? Well, the truth of the matter is, it all depends. Just like how each body is unique, each one of us has different sleep requirements too and it’s important to remember that sleeping for longer isn’t always better - it’s the quality of sleep you get that counts.

7-9 hours of sleep a night is the most common sleep duration for adults, and the recommended duration to give enough time for each of the different sleep stages needed to feel refreshed - some people can get more than this and others can function perfectly fine with as little as 6 hours a night. So, the 8 hour sleep myth is just that - a myth.

Your body gets used to having less sleep

It’s a myth that your body can get used to having less sleep. Not getting the sleep you need eventually takes both a short and long-term toll on your body and brain. After a few nights of insufficient sleep, you will experience drowsiness during the day, and this may settle down over time without enough sleep, but this doesn’t mean your body is adapting. 

A single night of poor sleep has a negative impact on memory, decision making, focus and creativity and continued sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your physical health too. Poor sleep has been linked to diabetes, heart problems, obesity, and even certain neuro-degenerative diseases.

Even if it feels like you are getting used to having less sleep, the fact of the matter is, you are more likely to encounter serious health problems, simply because your body isn’t getting the rest it needs.

Napping is bad for you

We all sleep differently and in some people the drive for sleep builds up so quickly that they need a nap in order to function. If you have a bad nights’ sleep you may also find a nap effective. However, we just need to ensure we are napping properly. No naps after 2-3pm and no long naps, 20-30minutes should be the time you’re aiming for. Any longer or later and you will affect your night-time sleep. If you don’t fall asleep within 10minutes, chances are you do not need a nap, therefore get up and get on with the rest of your day. 

Sleep before midnight counts as double

Even though this sounds good, it’s a complete myth that sleep before midnight counts as double, or as the old adage also goes “an hour before midnight is worth two after”. Although the hours of sleep you get before midnight do not count as double, time spent in restorative deep sleep predominates in the first sleep cycles and we need enough time for the right amount of all the different sleep types to feel refreshed. Create the right environment, so that’s a cool, dark and quiet bedroom and aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Also  make sure to reduce caffeine intake in the evening and practise a healthy lifestyle too.

You swallow spiders in your sleep

The myth of eating spiders in your sleep is a widespread urban legend that has no truth in it whatsoever. There are several reasons why spiders don’t bother us as we sleep - we are extremely large in comparison to a spider, so they just view us as part of their landscape and during sleep, we tend to make noises, such as from our breathing. Noise creates vibrations to which spiders are very sensitive and as a result are highly likely to avoid us. Now that we’ve cleared that up, you can sleep easy knowing that eating spiders in your sleep is a myth.

Alcohol before bed improves sleep

A couple of alcoholic drinks before bed can make you feel more relaxed and sleepy, but it’s a myth that drinking alcohol before bed improves sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed can put us into a deep sleep (passing out) but also disrupts your sleep cycles, leading to lighter, more interrupted poor quality sleep. If you want some decent quality shut-eye, so you feel recharged the next day, make sure to avoid alcohol before bed.

If your baby sleeps too long in the day, they will be up all night

For the most part, this myth is untrue. You may have heard the saying, sleep begets sleep, and that’s because babies need a lot of sleep, with some sleeping up to a staggering 18 hours a day. 

The right balance of sleep during the day and night, means your child will sleep more because they are well rested. In comparison, an overtired baby will most likely put up a fight when put down to sleep and have a harder time staying asleep too.

You should avoid waking someone who is sleepwalking

Although it may be difficult to wake someone who is sleepwalking, it is not dangerous. Sometimes it may be necessary to wake a sleepwalker, such as in cases where they could endanger themselves or others. If a sleepwalker is woken up during an episode, they will most likely feel disoriented and may need assistance getting back to bed.

Humans used to sleep in two shifts

Even though this may sound a little odd, it’s actually a fact that for millenia, humans used to sleep in two shifts. Throughout history, there have been accounts of segmented sleep, with a common reference to first sleep and second sleep - this is where people would sleep once in the morning and once in the evening. 

Between the first and second segments of sleep, there would be an hour or so of quiet wakefulness. This period was used for prayer or writing for example, but in the late 17th century, the idea of two sleeps dwindled and by 1920, it was practically obsolete.

The Russian sleep experiment

Finally, the Russian Sleep Experiment - did it really happen? This account describing the horrific results of a Russian sleep experiment from the late 1940s is just a work of creepy fiction that quickly went viral in 2010.

The story goes that scientists of the Soviet-era created a stimulant, which they believed would keep soldiers awake for up to 30 days. To test this out, five prisoners were locked in a sealed chamber, where the experimental gas based stimulant was pumped in. Within a few days, the men exhibited the kind of behaviour associated with sleep deprivation and after 15 days, when the chamber had been filled with fresh air and unlocked, one of the men was dead and the four surviving others sported violent injuries. Pretty chilling stuff, but definitely fiction!