For those of us with young families, medical conditions or mental health challenges, sleep can be elusive in the best of times. Add in the urban legends about spiders, the confusion around how much sleep you need, and all the contradictory tips on how to drop off, and it’s a recipe for stressful nights full of worrying.
Let’s take the mystery out of sleep and debunk these common myths to have a more restful 40 winks…
Myth #1 - You eat spiders in your sleep
Many hold the popular belief that humans swallow eight spiders a year on average. So, do you eat spiders in your sleep - and if so, how many?!
The answer is no - we do not swallow any spiders in our sleep.
Humans are scary prospects to spiders even when sleeping, as we make a lot of noise like snoring, moving and breathing. Spiders are very sensitive to even small vibrations and tend to avoid humans at all costs.
Even if a spider were somehow able to navigate its way onto your face or near your mouth, the unusual sensation would more than likely wake you up.
Myth #2 - You only dream during REM sleep
Dreams can occur during any stage of sleep, but the most intense ones usually happen during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.
Regardless of dreaming, REM sleep is crucial for good mental health and is a highly active time for the brain. This relaxed but active sleep state gives the body chance to regulate emotion and memory.
So, how much REM sleep do you need? Well, your body cycles between sleep states with ease and spends on average 20% of your night in REM, equating to about 90 minutes. This happens in the second half of your night's sleep, so it’s important to catch enough Z’s to ensure your brain can spend enough time in REM.
Myth #3 - Teenagers don’t need more sleep than adults
Teenagers do need more sleep than adults because the teenage brain is going through an essential second stage of development.
How much sleep does a teenager need?
Whilst it’s easy to question odd teenage behaviour such as staying up late and sleeping in until midday, they need about up to 10 hours per night. This extra time supports cognitive development, growth spurts and regulates mental health.
To support your teen getting these vital sleep hours in - encourage them to turn off any tech that emits blue light like phones, laptops or TV screens, two to three hours before bed.
Myth #4 - You shouldn’t sleep with a tampon in
Due to the risk and surrounding myths associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), some people believe it’s not safe to sleep while using a tampon.
Can you sleep with a tampon in? The answer is yes. Tampons are perfectly safe for up to 8 hours. Just ensure you change it as soon as you wake up and try and use the lowest absorbency for your flow. Remember to wash your hands before and after handling a tampon to prevent bacteria spread.
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)? TSS is a serious medical condition caused by a bacterial infection that ends up in the bloodstream. Whilst commonly associated with tampon users, it also affects men, women, and people of all ages with varying causes. The good news is that TSS is rare, and a tampon usually only becomes a risk when inserted for longer than 8 hours.
Myth #5 - Supplements can cure your sleep patterns
If you have problems with your sleep pattern, you might be tempted to seek out a quick fix. Whilst supplements can be helpful, your body’s daily requirements need to be taken care of first. So, before turning to supplements, ensure the basics are in place:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and make it a habit
- Ban blue-light emitting tech 2-3 hours before bed
- Get plenty of exercise during the day
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool
- Change your mattress every 6-8 years
- Avoid eating and drinking 2-4 hours before bed, especially drinks that contain stimulants or sugar
However, there are several popular supplements known to enhance these habits and make them a little easier. These include melatonin, CBD, and magnesium.
Does magnesium help you sleep? Magnesium is one of the most popular sleep supplements due to its easy availability over the counter, low cost, and natural mineral properties. It can help sleep if you are not getting enough, as a lack of magnesium in the body makes it harder to fall asleep.
Be sure to check with your doctor before adding new supplements to your regime.
Myth #6 - Sleep does not affect mental health
When looking for solutions to mental health issues, we often ignore generalised advice like 'fix your diet' or 'get more sleep'. This is because it’s a highly personal topic where we assume the solution should be just as complex and mysterious as mental health itself.
However, it’s necessary to consider the important role sleep plays in regulating our emotions.
How does sleep affect mental health? To begin with, we all know how distressing the day that follows a night of tossing and turning can be. It makes you stressed, irritable, and less able to tackle challenges that come your way.
Repeated instances of a poor night’s sleep mean you stay longer in a stressed, sleep-deprived state resulting in further feelings of worry and despair. In turn, this makes it harder to get the mood-improving benefits from sleep that a stressed brain needs.
At this stage, continued sleep deprivation can cause mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress disorders. So, getting enough sleep is critical.
How much sleep do I need? The answer varies based on age, gender, and health, but as a general rule of thumb:
- Toddlers need 11-14 hours
- Teenagers need 8-10 hours
- Adults need 7-9 hours
A good sleep pattern is vital in supporting mental health, so if you are struggling, improving your sleep is a great place to start.
Myth #7 - If I cannot fall asleep, I should stay in bed
A common misconception, but the reality is that people who spend time awake in bed are more likely to have sleep issues down the line.
Why? Your brain associates where you are asleep with sleep and where you are awake with wakefulness.
You need to train your brain that your bed means sleep, so if you lay awake tossing and turning, it’s best to get up. You could use this time to encourage sleepiness again - try listening to relaxing music or reading a book. Avoid picking up your phone as the blue light emitted from the screen will signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up.
Myth #8 - Eating cheese gives you nightmares
Does eating cheese give you nightmares? You may recall cautionary advice from your well-meaning parents warning you off a quick dairy snack before bed.
However, cheese is not a magic dream or nightmare generator but simply one of the trickier foods to digest. If you eat foods that require more time and energy to digest before bed, it might delay your body from entering deeper sleep.
In lighter sleep states, you’re more likely to remember your dreams, resulting in the association of cheese with nightmares.
So, there you have it, eight common sleep myths debunked to help you sleep well, feel better and get all the REM rest you need to function.