Common Beliefs About Sleep

Common Beliefs About Sleep

On average, you will spend about a third of your life sleeping or attempting to sleep. For many, this means more than 25 years will be spent in bed. Given this startling proportion, wouldn’t you like to know more about what helps, hinders and happens while you are asleep?

Michael K. Scullin, PhD., director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor University, spends the majority of his time researching and teaching about neurology and sleep medicine. He offers these answers.


MYTH: Smartphone apps can reliably measure your sleep

"Despite their popularity, sleep apps cannot effectively track sleep quality or quantity," Scullin said. The only way to reliably measure sleep is to have electrodes attached to the scalp, measuring brain waves in a sleep clinic—an expensive activity usually only worth the cost for individuals with sleep apnea or other ongoing sleep problems. The good news? Baylor’s sleep lab pays volunteers to get their sleep analyzed, and scientists like Scullin are always looking for participants. 

coffee cup

FACT: The latest you should consume caffeine is six hours before bed.

“Even if you have caffeine as many as six hours before bed, you have more difficulty falling asleep, and your sleep is less deep,” Scullin said. “We actually don’t know if the results would extend to seven or eight hours before bed, but we know that six hours before bed is a ‘no-go.’ I recommend having your caffeine in the morning.”

stop watch

FACT: If you cannot fall asleep in 20 minutes, you should get out of bed.

Seems contradictory, right? In fact, research shows that getting out of bed can improve your ability to fall asleep. “If you’re lying in bed and can’t fall asleep, you are forming a negative association between your bed and sleep,” Scullin said. “The solution is getting out of bed and going to do something boring without the lights on. Then when you feel sleepy, go back to bed.”

gravemarker reading RIP

MYTH: If you die in a dream, then you die in real life.

For a time, a rumor circulated that one’s brain cannot handle the mental strain of dying in a dream. “That’s not substantiated,” Scullin said. “Your brain can actually handle a lot, and one theory says nightmares are a functional adaptation to help us survive. It is potentially functional for your brain to have those stressors in its offline state to help prepare you for situations.”


MYTH: During a full moon, people have twice as many sleep problems.

A few years ago, there was a big media ‘boom’ claiming that there were more sleep disturbances during a full moon. According to Scullin, the scientific community was skeptical, and labs across the world pooled their data to discover the truth. They found no association between full moons and sleep quality.