Sleep Myths and Superstitions
Have you ever thought that those bedtime facts might be myths and superstitions? Many of us hear the same statements regurgitated by different sources down the years, why would we question a statement which appears to be common knowledge? You might be surprised to hear that a number of the statements below are indeed myths and superstitions rather than facts. From eating cheese before bedtime to waking a sleepwalker, we look at the most common bedtime “facts” which are actually myths.
Waking a Sleepwalker Gives Them a Heart Attack
Whilst experts advise that you shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker, it’s a case of shouldn’t, rather than can’t. Despite popular urban legends stating that waking a sleepwalker will result in a heart attack, there is no evidence to show that waking a sleepwalker causes them harm. In an interview with Scientific American, Michael Salami of California Center for Sleep Disorders, said “You can startle sleepwalkers, and they can be very disoriented when you wake them up and they can have violent or confused reactions, but I have not heard of a documented case of someone dying from being woken up.”
Although this superstition is far from the truth, you still probably shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker unless they’re in immediate danger.
You Swallow 8 Spiders Per Year as You Sleep
This commonly recited “fact” has been circulated around emails since the start of the internet. Yes, it’s possible to swallow a spider as you sleep, however, it’s incredibly hard to put an exact number on it. Rob Crawford, an arachnid curator at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, states that spiders tend to avoid sleeping humans as the vibrations given off by humans are received as a message of danger by spiders.
When you think logically about the statement, there is no prey to be found in a human’s bed, so why would a spider want to hang around there in the first place?
According to Snopes, the reason this myth exists is because in 1993, Lisa Holst, a columnist for PC Professional, wrote an article on made-up facts to prove how gullible people are on the internet. In a delicious irony, Holst’s article on this false “fact” has spurred it into becoming one of the most widely circulated bits of misinformation on the internet.
Eating Cheese Before Bedtime Gives You Nightmares
Surprisingly there hasn’t been many studies carried out on this topic, however, those studies which focus on the subject appear to conclude that no, cheese before bedtime does not give you nightmares. The first study of its kind carried out by the British Cheese Board found that rather than causing nightmares, eating cheese before bedtime can cause different types of dreams.
The study which included 100 men and 100 women, involved each participant receiving 20 grammes of cheese to eat half an hour before bedtime. The study revealed that different types of cheese can cause different types of dreams. Red Leicester, for example, caused 60% of the participants to dream about their schooldays, long-lost childhood friends, or previous family homes and hometowns.
Although these dreams appeared to be dictated by the type of cheese, none were deemed as nightmares.
Counting Sheep Leads to Sleep
If you often find yourself in bed counting sheep in the hope of dropping off to sleep, you might want to rethink your sleep technique. A study carried out by a team of scientists at Oxford University in 2002 found that counting sheep won’t send you to sleep. They did, however, conclude that picturing a pleasant and relaxing scene will send you to sleep in no time.
The study saw participants try different distraction techniques as an insomnia remedy. Those who pictured sheep had a harder time dozing off, whilst those who pictured calming images fell asleep quicker.
Where did this myth come from? It likely came from the shepherds of ancient Britain. The shepherds had a counting system called “yan, yan, tethera” to keep track of their ewes and rams. Somehow, this translated into a nighttime technique for sleep.
Teenagers are Lazy and Sleep Too Much
It is a common assumption that many people have. If you have a teenage child, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered their unwillingness to get out of bed in the morning. Many people put this down to teenagers simply being lazy, mood, and unmotivated in the morning. However, you might be unaware that there is a biological reason for this behaviour in the morning.
The body clock changes around the starting period of adolescence. During puberty, the circadian rhythm is delayed by 2-3 hours, which gradually makes children of this age, particularly males, more ‘evening types’. This is otherwise known as ‘sleep phase disorder’ and is characterised by a delayed sleep-wake timing. As a result, studies have shown that teenagers actually need 9-10 hours, rather than the 7-8 hours of the average adult.