Sleep is a mysterious process, and that means it's the subject of many untruths and much ill-informed wishful thinking. If you're trying to improve your quality or quantity of sleep, don't fall for these myths and you'll be well on the way.
Myth #10: Drinking Alcohol Makes Sleeping Better
We all know that if you pass out after a big night, waking up the next morning can be murder. But even the sleep you get after a hefty dose of wine/beer/mead will be poor. As physiology researcher James Heathers points out, "if you drink to go to sleep, you may go to sleep sooner but the sleep you have becomes proportionally less effective". In particular, you'll get less REM sleep, your body won't repair itself as effectively and you'll likely wake up dehydrated.
Myth #9: Farting In Your Sleep Can Kill You
Yes, that sounds ridiculous, and yes, it is. But that hasn't stopped myths of someone choking to death on their own bodily toxic fumes regularly doing the rounds. Urban myth site Snopes has a neat deconstruction of the myth.
Myth #8: Continuous Sleep Is Better For Us
If you wake up in the middle of the night, you may feel disappointed or elated (I love thinking "great, another four hours" and then rolling back over). However, there's a widespread belief that the best sleep involves sleeping non-stop without any obvious wakeful periods or visits to the bathroom. Not so; as Professor Leon Lack explains, sleep typically runs in 90-minute cycles and it's not unusual to wake in between them. The trick is not to panic and think that's a problem.
Myth #7: Older People Need Less Sleep
This ties in to the previous myth: if wakeful periods become more obvious when you get older, you can start believing you're actually getting less sleep. As this US ABC News piece points out, the evidence on this myth isn't clear, especially when you factor in that the elderly may have addition
Myth #6: You Can "Catch Up" On Sleep Over The Weekend
Yes, we can all enjoy sleeping in on a Sunday, but it isn't always good for us. By disrupting your regular sleep pattern, you can actually end up feeling more tired in the long run. Studies suggest that we can't really "catch up" on sleep over the long term, so if you're not getting solid regular sleep, the weekend won't help much.
Myth #5: Polyphasic Sleep Is A Realistic Goal
Polyphasic sleep involves taking frequent, brief naps (largely composed of REM sleep) rather than the more traditional hours-long block. A tiny number of people do manage to adapt to it and get much longer days as a result, but it's really, really tough. Kotaku editor Mark Serrels learned that the hard way in his Sleeping Like Superman diary. Read it and learn from his folly.
Myth #4: Pigging Out On Turkey Makes You Sleepy
We've previously pointed out that white meats such as turkey make good bedtime snacks due to the presence of tryptophan; an essential amino acid that research suggests can promote good quality of sleep. On the other hand, as the physician and scientist Merlin Thomas explains, turkey isn't much higher in tryptophan than other meats.
Myth #3: Everyone Needs Eight Hours Of Sleep A Day
There is no absolute requirement that suggests eight hours of sleep is essential. It's not a terrible goal to aim for, but if you can wake happily after six hours, that isn't necessarily a sign of trouble.
Myth #2: Walt Disney Isn't Dead, He's Cryogenically Frozen
That would be extreme sleep if it were true. But it isn't. It's a persistent myth (I remember hearing this as a child several decades ago), and it just doesn't go away. But cryogenics just hasn't happened yet. If you want a detailed debunking, Snopes has the goods once again.
Myth #1: Power Naps Can Help You
The myth? A quick nap can rejuvenate you for a second burst of work. The reality? A power nap can help, but you need to keep the timing short (under 15 minutes) and avoid taking them after 3pm -- at that point, you're more likely to go into deep sleep and then wake up unhappy. Our original post has the full details.
This story has been revised and updated since its original publication