10 Myths About Sleep Busted

10 Myths About Sleep Busted

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


  • “Myth #5: Immediately Jumping Into the Most Extreme Plausible Pattern of Polyphasic Sleep Is A Realistic Goal”
    FTFY 😛 I reckon Mark could have done it if he’d eased into it.

    • I don’t know if that would work. The point of the system is training your body to immediately enter REM sleep when you fall asleep, and you need that hellish first week of transition in order to shock your brain into doing that. If you just slowly eased into it, you would just be getting less sleep, without the transition.*

      * I haven’t actually tried this or studied it too extensively, so feel free to prove me wrong. It just makes sense to me.

  • Oh Lifehacker, I do try to ignore anything not related to cool little tech tips, but the area of sleep science is a little to close to home to pass over.

    #10: For some people the time saved in getting to sleep makes the trade off worth it, that said there’s more healthy ways to go about solving that problem than alcohol.

    #8: This isn’t really made clear, continuous isn’t better as long as you’re getting a full sleep cycle in your non-continuous sleep.every.single.time. As a general rule of thumb, yeah it’s still better to sleep through.

    #7: Is that the myth? Not familiar with that one, ‘Older people tend to sleep less’ on the other hand is a common one, and in the sense that they tend not to do 8 uninterrupted hours a night it’s typically correct, however as mentioned, it’s not concrete as older people are historically also more likely to take a nap during the day. The thing to remember, that you even touch on in #3 is there is no set amount of sleep every human being needs, some need more or less than others.

    #3: How very lifehacker to avoid mentioning some people also need more, it’s not even mentioned in the link. More you say! Wouldn’t that be unproductive! 5-10 is quite acceptable, and while there is no specific limit one way or the other, less than 5 or more than 10 is much more likely to be due to some factor other than what a healthy body requires, think hypersomnia for 10+, under 5 you’re likely just not functioning to your full potential, but there can be health risks the lower and lower you go.

    #1 I don’t understand this at all, you state ‘power naps can help you’ is a myth then proceed to say it’s not a myth. This is literally the form you took:
    1. The myth? A quick nap can rejuvenate you for a second burst of work.
    2. The Reality? A quick nap can rejuvenate you for a second burst of work.

    Of course you need to keep the timing short, that’s by definition what a power nap is…. oh and it’s 20 mins and under, but preferably not less than 10-15, not under 15 mins, hell you got this right in the article you sourced this from… I just.. what?

    • but the area of sleep science is a little to close to home to pass over.

      As in you’re an expert or professional in this field? You should probably cite your credentials if so.
      If not, then why can’t we ignore you like you think LH is mostly worth noting outside of cool little tech tips?

      • Unless you’re an expert as well, Justin, then why shouldn’t we just ignore your retort and believe Neil? Cite your own credentials!

        • Because I am not making any claims. I have no burden to prove I am qualified to offer advice because I am not offering any.

          Neil implied he has some expertise in this area and then went on to critique the list. Did I? No!

      • Because their credibility will instantly go up when they state they’re an expert.

        my qualifications: a PhD on internet comment sections

  • “Night School” by Richard Wiseman is an excellent, very readable book with a good overview of the current thinking on all topics relating to sleep. Highly recommended.

  • I know people say
    that the catch up is a myth (myth 6), but in my experience, if i get a few days of 3 hours sleep, unless i sleep for longer than my usual i am typically more drained, sure it may be confirmation bias, but anecdotally it works for me.

    • But that could be because it’s such a short amount of sleep, and then on the weekend you’re getting your body’s preferred amount of sleep? As compared to say, getting only 6 then, 10 on the weekend. 6 hours isn’t so much less than 8 that your body actually needs 2 more on the weekend. But… I haven’t read the linked article about the studies.

  • “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”

    Dammit. All the younger generations only have long division and multiplication..

  • My advice for a good night’s sleep…

    Avoid looking at the photo accompanying this story before hitting the sack.

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