We spend a huge amount of our lives asleep— but we have absolutely no recollection of it. Dreams and the passage of time are the only ways we know that sleep is something we do; we’re not conscious, so we don’t really know what happens to us while we sleep. As children, many of us are fascinated by sleep and what happens during it. This fades as we grow up, but for the most part, sleep is something we know is a thing, but we’re not entirely sure about the details.
The fact that sleep remains a mystery to most of us is probably why it’s an area that is ripe for misinformation and myths– and wow, there are so many myths about sleep. Hot on the heels of debunking pregnancy myths, let’s dig deeper into the things you think you know about sleep and find out where the truth really lies.
Catching Zs and Munching On Spiders
It’s almost impossible that you haven’t heard this “fact”. It’s so commonly stated that even if you didn’t hear it at school, you’ve almost certainly heard it thanks to the wonder of the internet.
The “fact” in question relates to spiders. It’s fair to say that spiders aren’t ever going to be a popular topic of conversation; a fact that this myth relies on. We’re all so disgusted by the mere suggestion of this fact that we don’t bother to question whether or not it’s accurate. The “fact” goes something like this: human beings eat eight spiders per night while sleeping.
Is this true? No. Let’s break down why:
- First and foremost, this myth presumes that spiders are practicing some kind of suicide ritual on a nightly basis and willingly throwing themselves into the mouths of humans. Spiders don’t do that because of spiders, well, like being alive.
- This myth also presumes that humans can notice the spiders and — rather than brushing them away — we chew and swallow them.
- While there probably are eight spiders in your house at any given time, if you were munching the entire population on a nightly basis, you’d pretty quickly run out of spiders. If a family of four was eating eight spiders per night, each, then that’s nearly a thousand spiders. It’s not happening.
So no, you’re not eating eight spiders per night; in fact, you’ve probably never eaten a spider in your sleep. This is such a strange myth that it’s odd it’s managed to become so commonly-mentioned. There’s probably someone who makes a habit of eating bowls of spiders on a nightly basis, who’s skewing the average for the rest of us.
The Myth of Eight Hour Sleep
It’s almost impossible to look for information about sleep without being told that you should be sleeping — at an absolute minimum — eight hours per night. Given how often this is stated, one must presume there is solid scientific evidence to back it up… right?
Wrong. The “eight hour” idea is loosely based on the average sleep cycle. In fact, some studies have shown that sleeping for six or seven hours per night is actually better for us. Eight hours is an arbitrary number; sure, it’s a good number, but it’s not an absolute rule. Some people need more sleep; some will sleep for six hours and feel perfectly fine.
There are plenty of famous people who have managed to succeed and live long, healthy lives off the back of very little sleep. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously only slept for four hours per night; and Winston Churchill spent most of the Second World War existing on snatched sleep wherever he could manage it. While sleep is important to health, these examples make it clear that the eight-hour rule is not as essential as we have been lead to believe.
Waking Up At Night Is Just For Babies
Modern day life is pretty far removed from how our ancestors used to live. The Victorian era saw the advent of electric light, meaning that no longer did we have to retire to bed when the sun went down– and our sleep patterns have never been quite the same since.
Waking up in the middle of the night is seen as a problem when it comes to babies, but perhaps the babies are onto something. Sleeping through the entire night is not a goal for good sleep hygiene. The idea of sleeping through the night being a good thing is relatively modern notion, and it’s one we should all probably abandon.
In fact, studies have shown that humans tend to get the best, most restful sleep when we break the night up into two blocks of sleep periods. So, you head to bed at your usual time, get a few hours in, then get up. Spend an hour or so doing a light, non-demanding activity such as reading a book, then dive back under your covers and duvets to catch another few hours of rest.
You Can “Catch Up” On Sleep
This one is simple: if you go without sleep during the week, then you can “catch up” on weekends. Most of us tend to feel rested and relaxed after a lie-in, so it seems that this one checks out.
Except, it doesn’t. There’s no such thing as a sleep debt; you can’t sleep more one day to compensate for a lack of sleep earlier in the week. Yes, you will feel a benefit to getting a good night’s sleep after a few days of struggling, but you’re not catching up on anything that has been lost– that’s gone for good. Your body is just taking what it needs on that night; what’s happened during the nights prior to that are largely irrelevant. Studies have shown that you can’t “catch up” to sleep deprivation; you can only try to do better in the future.
So the next time you lay down to sleep, remember the realities of sleep rather than the myths you have been hearing for years. Sleep well!