How Much Do Americans Know About Sleep?

By Loren Bullock

Sleep is something we all do—in fact we spend about a third of our lives sleeping—so it’s natural to think we have all the facts. But do Americans know as much about sleep as they think they do?

We surveyed 2,000 Americans to test their knowledge and see how much they know about sleep science as well as whether or not they believe some common sleep myths. Want to see how they did? Check out the survey results below.

Gaps in Information

Sleep Myths stat 1

When tested on the science behind sleep, the majority of survey respondents did not pass. For example, more than half of those surveyed misidentified or simply didn’t know the definition of circadian rhythm. Instead of referring to the body’s natural clock that regulates when to sleep and wake, 15 percent believed circadian rhythm refers to the body’s blood flow.

Furthermore, over half of those surveyed believed that snoring is completely healthy and nothing to be worried about. However, snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea—a sleep disorder where breathing halts multiple times throughout the night—or another serious medical condition.

Here are some other sleep science facts that were mistaken or unknown.

Sleep myths stat2

Sleep is among food and water in importance to survival, yet it is less researched, and thus, most people don’t know many of the facts. Being more knowledgeable about sleep science leads you to make better choices regarding your sleep and improving your sleep health. When people have less of the facts, they are more inclined to believe myths about sleep.

Myths Americans Still Believe

When it comes to debunking sleep myths, Americans did a little better, but not much.

Sleep myth stat 3

Myths and old wive’s tales about sleep have been circulating for centuries, so it makes sense they have reached us years later. But it is crucial that we know the real from the fake, so we can better our sleep hygiene. Here are the most believed myths about sleep according to our survey, and the truth behind these misconceptions.

The top 10 Sleeping Myths Americans Believe

1. 32% believe that drinking alcohol before bed helps you sleep

Drinking before bed helps you fall asleep, but it doesn’t help you stay asleep. The nightcap makes you restless all night, so you feel tired and drowsy the next day.

2. 30% believe watching TV/using a smartphone/tablet/computer helps you fall asleep

Actually, these screens emit blue lights that inhibit the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, making it harder for you to go to sleep.

3. 29%believe the older you get, the less sleep you need

Older adults still need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

4. 25% believe some people don’t dream at all

Everyone dreams. Not everyone remembers their dreams.

5. 25% believe that sleeping on your left side helps digestion

Sleeping on your left side is better than sleeping on your right, but it has little to do with digestion.

6. 24% believe you can train your body to function on less sleep than needed

You still need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Even odd shift workers never adjust to their sleep schedules.

7. 23% believe working out at night makes it harder to fall asleep

Working out at least two hours before bed actually makes it easier to sleep.

8. 23% believe you can “make up” for lost sleep over the weekend

Sleeping in on the weekends makes it harder on your routine during the week. Your body is enjoying the extra bedtime on the weekends and doesn’t want to wake up earlier during the week.

9. 23% believe falling asleep with wet hair will give you a cold

Wet hair has very little to do with illness. People catch a cold during the colder months because they spend more time inside, i.e., illness circulates more easily.

10. 23% believe an hour of sleep before midnight is worth more than two after

The amount of time you spend asleep at night counts the same whether it’s before or after midnight.

What They Got Right

There is one aspect about sleep that Americans seem to be particularly knowledgeable about, and that’s sleep disorders.

sleep myths stat 4

On top of that, almost 40 percent of those surveyed correctly said that having sex before going to bed helps you sleep—though this one may be from personal experience. Sixty seven percent of responders agreed that they themselves have gotten a better night’s rest after having sex.

Educating Ourselves

Looks like it’s time to brush up on our sleep facts. Luckily, educating ourselves is easy. There are various online resources (such as Mattress Advisor) to help you navigate the complicated landscape of sleep. For now, here are 5 tips on how to get better sleep:

  1. Have a bedtime routine
  2. Put away your screens
  3. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum
  4. Identify any possible sleep disorders
  5. Improve your diet.

Methodology

We surveyed over 2,000 adults (18-55+) on their sleep habits, knowledge of sleep science, and ability to debunk sleep myths.

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