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Most widely held sleep myths? Poll ranks top 10

Most widely held sleep myths? Poll ranks top 10

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The three most widely held sleep myths, finds Calm’s new poll are: lowering the car windows helps you stay awake while driving; you should never wake a sleepwalker; and, during sleep, your brain finally rests.

Americans are more likely than others to believe that alcohol before bed helps you sleep better, reveals a new international poll on popular sleep myths. 

The British, meanwhile, are way more likely than others to hold that eating cheese before bed increases your risk of nightmares – according to the survey of 4,337 American, British and French adults, conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of Calm

The three most widely held sleep myths among poll respondents overall, however, are that: 

  • Lowering the car windows or turning up the air-conditioning will help you stay awake when driving. 

  • During sleep, your brain finally rests.

  • You should never wake a sleepwalker.

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“There are so many common myths about sleep that we wanted to find out which ones are, in fact, most widely believed”, says Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm.  

The next three most popular myths, finds Calm’s poll, are:  

  • You only dream during very deep sleep

  • If you’re struggling to sleep, it’s best to stay in bed.

  • You swallow a few spiders every year while you sleep.

Those polled were shown a set of 10 statements – each expressing a common sleep myth – and asked to respond by answering “True”, “False” or “Don’t know”. 

“Some sleep myths are fairly harmless, while others are seriously dangerous”, says Alex Tew, co-founder of Calm. 

The single least credited myth –  “Eating cheese before bed increases the risk of nightmares” –  falls into the former category, while the single most widely held myth –  “Lowering the car windows or turning up the air-conditioning will help you stay awake when driving” –  falls into the latter.

Over half (56%) of all respondents – and two-thirds (66%) of Brits – hold the latter to be true, while just 15% believe the former. 

With the possible exception of those with lactose intolerance, however, there is no proof that eating cheese even effects sleep, let alone causes nightmares. If anything, it may even aid sleep. 

Meanwhile, says the National Sleep Foundation, such alleged “aids” to wakefulness as turning up the radio, opening the window or turning on the air-conditioner, don’t work:  

“They are ineffective and can be dangerous to anyone who is driving while feeling drowsy or sleepy, as well as their passengers and others on the road.  If you’re feeling tired while driving, pull off the road in a safe rest area and take a nap for 15-45 minutes.” 

The same source debunks the myth that “During sleep, your brain finally rests”, by stating: “The body rests during sleep, however, the brain remains active, gets ‘recharged,’ and still controls many body functions including breathing.” 

Half (50%) of all respondents believe that you should never wake a sleepwalker. This includes over two-thirds (69%) of French respondents, almost twice the equivalent share (38%) of Americans.  

Waking a sleepwalker, however, might be not just advisable but vital, given the risk that she/he might, say, fall down the stairs or harm themselves in other ways.

What experts advise is gently guiding the sleepwalker back to bed, without worrying about waking them, since, even if you do, the chances are they won’t remember a thing.

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The origins of some sleep myths remain a mystery. 

Take, for example, the notion that we all swallow a few spiders every year while we sleep – believed by a quarter (25%) of Americans in Calm’s poll and nearer a third (30%) of recipients overall, making it the sixth most widely held myth.  

The whole idea, suggests one theory, was invented in 1993 by a computer magazine columnist, in a bid to demonstrate the gullibility of email recipients. 

Whatever the truth of this theory – which itself seems to lack proof – some adherents to the spider-swallowing myth will even quote you precise numbers: that we swallow seven (or is it eight?) spiders a year (or is it a lifetime?). 

And whatever the original source of the notion, it is, of course, not true. A sleeping person is more likely to scare off a nearby spider than ingest one. 

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“We hope”, says Michael Acton Smith, “that a few more folks may now realise that eating cheese before bed is fine (unless maybe you’re lactose intolerant) but drinking alcohol is less so; that air-conditioning won’t help tired drivers; and that neither swallowing spiders while you sleep nor waking sleepwalkers are things you need to lose sleep over.”

For more on why all 10 sleep myths are wrong, read The 10 Most Widely Held Myths – And Why They’re Wrong.  

Table: Most Widely Held Sleep Myths 

*Combined results for The US, UK and France

Rank Myth/Statement % Who
Believe It
1 Lowering the car windows or turning up the air-conditioning will help you stay awake when driving 56
2 You should never wake a sleepwalker 50
3 During sleep, your brain finally rests 48
4 You only dream during very deep sleep 35
5 If you’re struggling to sleep, it’s best to stay in bed 31
6 You swallow a few spiders every year while you sleep 30
7 You can catch up on missed sleep by sleeping in at weekends. 21
8 Snoring is always harmless 20
9 Alcohol before bed helps you sleep better 17
10 Eating cheese before bed increases the risk of nightmares 15
Average % belief in all 10 myths overall 32

Methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4,337 adults, across the USA, UK and France, of which 2,070 were from the UK, 1,258 from the US and 1,009 from France. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st and 26th June. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all market adults (aged 18+)

The 10 Most Widely Held Sleep Myths – And Why They’re Wrong

The 10 Most Widely Held Sleep Myths – And Why They’re Wrong

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