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Myth or Fact? Common Sleep Myths Explained

myths about sleep

Sleep myths are all around us. The extent to which they’ve become ingrained in our psyche, is unbelievable. A myth is more than false information - myths about sleep can be detrimental to our health. Read on to learn about some common sleep facts and myths.

Facts and Myths of Lack of Sleep

One of the most common sleep myths is that if you don’t get enough sleep, you can “catch up” over the holidays, over the weekend, etc. In fact, getting up later a couple days a week won’t compensate for chronic loss of sleep. Our bodies obtain a “debt” of sleep every time we don’t get enough of it.

If a person stays up late one night and goes to bed earlier the next to make up for it, it won’t be a problem, but you can’t rely on that constantly.

Research published in the American Journal of Physiology has shown that sleep debt can’t be “returned” no matter how hard you try. In the study, participants underwent a week of sleep deprivation, after which they were less able to focus and felt more tired than before. That may be an obvious outcome. What’s more interesting is that when they “caught up” on their sleep eventually, their attention levels still couldn’t return to normal despite the fact that they didn’t feel as drowsy anymore.

People who believe this and other sleep myths feel they’ll be in top shape at work after a few days of resting, but they won’t. What’s more, it’s harder to fall asleep on Sunday night because the worries of what the first business day of the week will bring can keep you up. That’s another exacerbating factor.

Myths about Sleep Hygiene

Many people who are concerned with sleep hygiene worry if they wake up in the middle of the night. Actually, it is historically common and biologically normal to wake during the night. One of the most common cultural myths related to sleep in the USA involves exactly that – the proverbial “sleeping through the night”.

Throughout history, sleep patterns have varied across different cultures. Studies show that people normally slept in two stages over a 12-hour period before we had electric lighting. They woke up for several hours in the middle of the night, talked or did something, and then went back to sleep. Some studies indicate that this sleep cycle might even lead to enhanced work performance.

Sleep Paralysis Myths

It’s hard to keep track of the sheer number of myths about sleep paralysis. Where do all these bewildering sleep myths come from? The word “nightmare” actually comes from “night” and “mare”, and sleep paralysis was the original embodiment of this state. Sleep paralysis has played a role in the creation and maintenance of a myriad of beliefs in witches, vampires, demons, and other supernatural entities.

Remnants of these earlier interpretations of phenomena related to sleep paralysis can be found in modern-day narratives of ghosts, alien abductions, and shadow people. In spite of the geographical and temporal distance separating many of these paranormal and supernatural interpretations, it is thought they contain a number of interesting similarities and reflect human desires and fears.

Feeling paralyzed in your sleep doesn’t mean you’re being attacked by witches, vampires, or demons, nor does it signify an underlying medical condition. Usually, sleep deprivation and stress are the cause.

Sleep Apnea Myths

Sleep apnea is a condition where air is prevented from flowing into or out of your airways when you’re asleep. People who suffer from this condition often wake up at night, gasping for breath. The breathing pauses can strain the heart and cardiovascular system, reduce blood oxygen levels, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

One of the most common gender related sleep myths is that snoring is harmless for men. Snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, especially if the person is very sleepy during the day. Myths about sleep apnea aren’t limited to snoring. Another one is that only older people have it. While it’s true that the disorder becomes more common after the age of 40, people of all ages can be affected. Men, Latinos, overweight people, and African-Americans are more likely to develop it.

Sleepwalking Myths

sleep walking mythsAccording to data of the National Sleep Foundation, sleepwalking affects about one to five percent of the general population. Apart from walking around during sleep, sleepwalking can involve just sitting up in bed or performing normal daily activities. One of the myths about sleepwalking is that it has no effect on daytime behavior. It can disrupt sleep, leading you to feel drowsy the following day. In children, sleepiness is more likely to manifest as hyperactivity or inattention rather than dozing off.

Relevant Sleep Myths

Myths: You should never wake up a sleepwalker, sleepwalking is random, and it’s not dangerous.

If you live with someone who sleepwalks, you should definitely wake them up because they might hurt themselves or someone else! Sleepwalkers have been known to engage in risky activities, such as driving, climbing out of windows or off balconies, or leaving their home during winter.

Sleepwalking in childhood is benign for the most part. Most families can protect their children with simple safety precautions such as locking windows, putting a high lock on doors at night, and putting away dangerous items like scissors and knives at bedtime.

Sleep Myths: Sleepwalking Just “Happens”

Sleepwalking does not “just happen.” It is the result of a condition where part of the brain is asleep and the other part is awake. Normally, this occurs in the first half of the night as you enter the second or third stage of sleep.

Greek Myths about Needing Sleep

According to ancient myths about sleep, it is something Greek gods never needed. At least the myths we all read as children gave little indication of gods needing sleep. In some cases, a Greek god or goddess went into induced sleep, but sleep didn’t work for gods as it did for mortals at any rate.

Greek myths and legends generally didn’t see sleep as a positive thing. An example is the myth of Hypno, the god of Sleep, who tricked Zeus into falling asleep as Hera’s behest. The second time, she promised Hypno that Pasithea, one of the Graces, would marry him. She delivered and one of Hypno and Pasithea’s children, Morpheus, would actually spend most of his time sleeping in a cave. There were lots of poppies in the cave, which gave him complete control over mortals’ dreams. He could also send mortals messages from the gods through the former’s dreams.

Babies Smiling in their Sleep Myths

According to some Hindu myths, babies smile in their sleep in the first few months because they’re dreaming about the happy times they had in their previous lives. Another common myth is that they smile because they’re happy. According to doctors, there are no emotional causes of smiles before the age of one month. Babies’ smiles are usually spontaneous and often occur during REM, the deepest phase of sleep. They’re often referred to as “gas smiles” because REM sleep is an active period for passing gas too.

Until 7 weeks of age (on average), babies are more likely to respond to auditory than visual stimuli. If the baby is smiling in response to stimuli, he or she will lift his or her cheeks. This won’t happen if it’s a gas smile.

Myths about Dying in your Sleep

Dying in a dream doesn’t mean you're dead or you’ll die soon. In fact, dying in a dream is a completely safe and can be an interesting experience. This is because consciousness is fully independent from the body in the dream.

Myths of What Happens if You Sleep Alone

Parents with very young and anxious children fall victim to the belief that the latter will develop an anxiety disorder if they make them sleep alone and other sleep myths of the kind. They will sleep in the same bed as their children to prevent this.

It can be risky to sleep with a child in a standard bed, especially if both parents are in the bed and the child is really young. Babies who sleep between their parents might get entrapped and suffocate. This can either happen when a baby becomes wrapped in puffy or heavy blankets or if a parent accidentally rolls over on top of the child in their sleep.

There are ways to reduce these risks. Never place the child between you and your partner or spouse and minimize bulky bedding. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t go to bed with a baby if you’ve had a bit to drink, because you’ll be tossing and turning more.

It is a myth, not a fact, that a child who’s not happy about sleeping alone will grow up with an anxiety disorder.

We hope you found the information in this article helpful. On a final note, the quality of your mattress and bedding is of paramount importance to your sleep. This is a factor you should never underestimate.

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