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8 surprising sleep facts and myths, including how much we dream each night

8 surprising sleep facts and myths this Sleep Awareness Week
(Image credit: Getty)

There are many tips for enjoying a great night’s sleep, but there’s also a lot of confusing information about how to get some decent shut-eye, so, for Sleep Awareness Week, we're looking at some of the juiciest sleep facts and biggest sleep myths to help you figure out what’s what. 

As well as practicing better sleep hygiene and keeping your bedroom free of clutter, another great way to ensure a comfier night’s sleep is to invest in the best mattress for your favorite sleep position. But, for now, here’s the lowdown on eight of the most surprising sleep facts and myths.

1. Sleep myth: Everyone needs eight hours sleep

According to National Sleep Foundation guidelines, most healthy adults will need between seven to nine hours sleep a night, while over 65s should aim for seven to eight hours a night. This figure however is different for the much younger generation, with newborns sleeping up to 17 hours a day.

A 2015 study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine cited that adults consistently getting fewer hours than recommended were more likely to suffer from health conditions including weight gain and hypertension. So make sure you set yourself a good sleep schedule and try to stick with it. We know it isn’t always possible, and life happens, but prioritizing your sleep is a smart move for your overall health.

2. Sleep fact: We dream for around two hours a night

Humans have been fascinated by dreams for as long as we’ve been having them. They can be funny, sad, weird, scary or downright bizarre, and that’s just the small percentage of dreams we can remember - most of them we don’t. According to guidance published by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, every person dreams, with the average being two hours a night.

We can dream at any point during our sleep, but we are more likely to have vivid dreams during the REM stage of our sleep, when our brains are most active.

The average human has four to six sleep cycles a night, which includes a  10-minute REM stage in the first cycle, building up to longer stages of up to an hour in the following cycles, which is when the magic happens.

Sleep facts: An image showing a woman with dark hair unable to sleep in her bed, lying and staring at the wall

(Image credit: Getty)

3. Sleep myth: If you can’t sleep, it's best to stay in bed until you drop off

The best thing to do if you can’t sleep in the middle of the night is to get up and go into a different room. Why? So that you don’t build a negative association between your bed and not being able to sleep, as over time this could lead to a form of sleep anxiety. If you are dealing with racing thoughts at bedtime, you may benefit from learning how to stop anxiety ruining your sleep.

If after 20 minutes you still feel wide awake, Sleep Education, powered by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, advises indulging in some low-impact activities such as folding clothes, reading in a chair, or practicing scales on an instrument (quietly!). Hopefully you should begin to feel sleepy again and can go to bed (which beats lying in bed, worrying about not being able to sleep). This will distract your brain and gently encourage it to relax again, ready for a good snooze.

4. Sleep fact: Tech can be a major sleep disrupter

Sleep.org shares several ways in which technology can keep you awake at night. First, the blue light emitted from phone screens can suppress the hormones that control your sleep cycle, so switch your device to night mode. Ideally, you’d ditch the phone completely before bedtime, but if playing a game or reading on your phone relaxes you for sleep, that’s fine. Just don’t forget to use night mode to dampen that pesky blue light. 

Similarly, checking emails or watching an exciting movie before bedtime can also trick your brain into being alert. The constant buzzes and pings that come from your device can also cause disrupted sleep, so sleep experts regularly recommend leaving it out of the bedroom. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, we’d recommend putting it out of your line of sight. Even better, switch to one of the best sunrise alarm clocks instead for a more natural and cheerful way to rise and shine.

5. Sleep myth: Alcohol before bed improves sleep

While alcohol can make you sleepy, it also leads to bad-quality sleep. The Cleveland Clinic shares how booze can prevent you from hitting the deep sleep part of your sleep cycle, leaving you feeling groggy the next morning. But it’s not just the quality of sleep that’s at risk – alcohol can also give you vivid dreams, including nightmares, plus some people are more likely to sleepwalk too. This doesn’t apply to everyone, so don’t panic, but the general point is that if you think alcohol helps you sleep better, think again. 

Sleep facts: An image showing a man in a yellow jumper looking visibly stressed

(Image credit: Getty)

6: Sleep fact: Most people experience the effects of sleep deprivation after 24 hours

Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for functioning clearly the next day, and for having fast response reflexes. Among the health effects of sleep deprivation listed by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, your immune system takes a hit when you’re sleep deprived. 

If you cut back on your sleep, or you’ve been unable to sleep, it could also lead to lack of concentration, irritability, short-term memory problems and muscle tension, among other issues.

The CDC also warns how dangerous it can be to drive if you have been awake for 24 hours, with reaction times and decision-making becoming severely impaired, similar to the effects of drunk driving when over the legal limit.

7: Sleep myth: Older people need less sleep 

As we get older, we experience changes in our circadian rhythm, the natural process that controls our sleep-wake cycle and influences when we feel sleepy and when we feel alert. While older people still need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, depending on their age and health, it may feel as if they are getting less, as they experience more broken sleep, due to health conditions and hormonal disruption such as during menopause. 

Regular exercise and a good sleep schedule should ensure you enjoy consistently good sleep as you get older. And don’t forget to avoid caffeine and blue light before bedtime too.

8. Sleep fact: Falling asleep can take up to 20 minutes 

You should be well on your way to a good night’s sleep anywhere between ten and 20 minutes of going to bed. If it takes over an hour then there are plenty of reasons why, such as caffeine consumption, jetlag or too much screen time. If you fall asleep straight away, this could be a sign that you’re sleep deprived or not getting enough sleep. 

However, if it takes a little longer, you could also be getting too much shut-eye. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day, and sticking closely to it on weekends, should help you manage your sleep better and understand what works best for you. 

Experiment with different times until you find your ideal amount of sleep, and don’t feel guilty if it’s different to your bed partner’s. If you need seven hours but your partner needs a good nine hours and prefers an early bedtime, that’s ok. You can still have cuddle time before your partner drifts off, then you can pop back downstairs to enjoy your pre-bedtime relaxation routine.

Looking to upgrade your bed to enjoy better sleep? Then check out our roundups of the latest Purple mattress deals and discounts, the best Casper mattress deals, and the best Saatva mattress discounts.