Swallowing spiders? Nightcap? These are the debunked sleep myths Americans still believe

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New research conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Mattress Advisor tested the knowledge of Americans to see just how much they know about the science of sleep. (Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash)

Nearly a quarter of Americans incorrectly think they can train their body to function on less sleep than needed, according to new research.

Other sleeping myths Americans believe include: the older you get, the less sleep you need (29 percent) and the brain is inactive during sleep (21 percent).

Even more shocking is the 20 percent who believed the myth that you swallow eight spiders per year while you sleep.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Mattress Advisor, the survey tested the knowledge of 2,000 Americans to see just how much they know about the science of sleep and whether certain myths hold truth.

Despite the fact that 70 percent said they were knowledgeable about the science of slumber, respondents did believe some potentially harmful statements regarding sleep.

Thirty-two percent of respondents believe in the benefits of a nightcap, in spite of the potential dangers of drinking alcohol and sleeping.

A further three in 10 also believe that watching television or spending time on a smartphone or tablet will help you fall asleep. In actuality, the blue light emitted from screens affect the brain’s ability to produce melatonin, which tells the body when it’s time to sleep.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents did correctly say it’s true that having sex before sleeping helps you sleep.

This knowledge perhaps comes from personal experience, as 67 percent agreed that they themselves notice getting a better night’s sleep after having sex.

Respondents were also asked to properly identify certain sleep terms — and over half of respondents either did not know or chose an incorrect definition when asked to define circadian rhythm.

Rather than correctly defining this as the body’s natural clock that regulates when to sleep and wake, 15 percent actually believed circadian rhythm was the proper term for the body’s blood flow.

Furthermore, only about 30 percent of respondents correctly identified REM sleep and sleep-wake homeostasis — the last stage in a full sleep cycle and the body’s way of keeping track of the need for sleep, respectively.

“Sleep impacts literally every system in your body,” said Alesandra Woolley, Executive Editor of Mattress Advisor. “However, it’s a field that’s far less researched and not talked about enough, so it’s easy to make assumptions based on false information.”

Americans are more knowledgeable about sleep disorders, however; with over half of respondents properly identifying the definitions of insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

Still, over half of respondents also believed that snoring is completely healthy and nothing to be worried about.

When, in fact, snoring can often be a sign of a more serious medical condition — such as sleep apnea.

Most respondents did not know the hard numbers regarding the sleep cycle, however.

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A measly 7 percent correctly estimated the length of an average sleep cycle — approximately 90 minutes — and only 15 percent correctly said there are four stages of sleep.

“As with anything related to your personal health, knowledge is power,” said Woolley. “Whether it’s tips for sleeping in a certain environment or products that can help you sleep better, the more you know about the behaviors that promote quality sleep, the better chance you have of improving your sleep health.”


  1. Drinking alcohol before bed helps you sleep 32%
  2. Watching TV/using a smartphone/tablet/computer helps you fall asleep 30%
  3. The older you get, the less sleep you need 29%
  4. Some people don’t dream at all 25%
  5. Sleeping on your left side helps digestion 25%
  6. You can train your body to function on less sleep than needed 24%
  7. Working out at night makes it harder to fall asleep 23%
  8. You can “make up” for lost sleep over the weekend 23%
  9. Falling asleep with wet hair will give you a cold 23%
  10. An hour of sleep before midnight is worth more than two after 23%

>> Download the video and infographic for this research story <<

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