13 Sleeping Beliefs and Fallacies: You Better Be Aware!

Have you wondered how to sleep less, yet feel rested? Tired (no pun intended) of wasting precious hours of life while asleep? Read these thirteen reasons why the amount of sleep we need isn’t so simple, and you may conclude that you really DON’T need eight hours a night … Or will you? A new theory for needing sleep is energy conservation. A study shows that if you are making up for lost sleep after an all-nighter, you burn 28 fewer calories during sleep than normal. In another study, volunteers woken up from sleep at night immediately began burning calories faster, even if their sleep had lasted seconds. For someone with sleep apnea who wakes up many times per night, their energy reserves needed for sleep’s important functions (see #2) are being tapped. Researchers are studying whether missing a few hours of sleep nightly has different energy costs than pulling an all-nighter.

1) Scientists don’t actually know WHY we need to sleep for an entire 1/3 of our lifetime.

That is, if you live the average American lifespan of 78.6 years, you spend 25 years of your life sleeping. However, scientists do know that while we sleep, muscle grows, body tissues are repaired – including critical connections between neurons (or brain cells,) the immune system is reinforced, and hormones are synthesized. 

The best med schools would tell you the same thing. There are four stages of sleep, plus REM, and it takes time to cycle through them all! Stages 3 and 4, which are the last steps before reaching REM, involve the deepest and most restorative slumber. REM is reached multiple times in one night, about every 90 minutes, and lasts longer each time. REM provides energy to your brain and body, supporting daytime activities. The body needs enough time sleeping for all of this.

2) In terms of energy expenditure, sleep really doesn’t save you much.

Sleeping eight hours saves 50 kCal, about the amount of energy in a hot dog bun. That is, you spend 50 kCal less than you would awake during those hours … So sleep isn’t resting you as much as you’d think. Health science shows, however, that missing a full night of sleep causes your body to burn an extra 161 calories of energy, because you’re busy doing things when you’d normally be still. 


To make up for the deficit, your body tries to save more energy during the following day and night – meaning you are sluggish, and move slower. Unfortunately, people with sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia suffer from chronic sleep deprivation when untreated. The result is an extremely high energy toll.

3) An important theory for the reason we need sleep is to rest our brains.

Therefore, sleep IS clearly important for anyone’s health management. However, your brain doesn’t simply shut down while you’re catching a wink. Actually, your brain becomes more active than when you’re awake during the day. Important cognitive processing, restoration, and strengthening of tissue occurs during sleep … that’s a lot of activity happening when we seem so still! See, while we are awake, we are constantly taking in information. This information cannot be logged and recorded directly; it first needs to be processed and stored. 

Much of that occurs during sleep: pieces of information are transferred from short-term, “working” memory over to stronger long-term memory. The psychological term for this process is “consolidation.” REM is a critical necessity for consolidation.

4) Therefore, the stereotypical definition of sleep AS rest is not that simple.

… And yet, you don’t need a medical degree to realize that if you don’t sleep for more than 17 hours, you will start to experience cognitive problems. These include difficulties with perception, and with remembering details. There are some changes you can make to your daily schedule to help, if you normally have sleep problems. Avoiding caffeine after noontime, decreasing physical activity in the evenings (and exercising only in the morning,) and staying away from screens with ‘blue’ backlights, like your computer, TV or smart phone can help you give in to drowsiness when it is time to sleep. 

Sleeping even 30 minutes less than the necessary 7-9 hours a night accumulates over time in a “sleep debt.” You end up drowsy, unproductive, and moody.

5) You will become overly sensitive to stimuli.

For example, your pain tolerance lowers, meaning you experience physical pain as being more intense than it would feel if your brain were rested. This is important health information for those who suffer from chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, low back pain, fibromyalgia, and diabetic nerve pain. If you already suffer from chronic pain, lack of sleep will make your perception of pain EVEN worse, and that’s the last thing you need. 


(In addition, though this is unrelated: if you have such a condition, you really should consider earning a counseling degree in order to become a therapist for others with similar conditions. No other therapists would be so well suited to these conditions as you would be.) Treating your sleep disorder, on the other hand, even if it’s caused by your chronic pain, will help both issues.

6) Lack of sleep causes weight gain.

During sleep, your body releases hormones that regulate appetite: less sleep equals less regulation. The more you are sleep-deprived, the higher your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases your appetite. When exhausted, you reach for food requiring no preparation and that makes you feel good in the moment – i.e., junk food. Stress additionally encourages your body to produce serotonin, to calm you. The quickest way to calm you, however, is eating food high in fat and carbs, which cause a neurochemical reaction. 

Unfortunately, lack of sleep also makes it more difficult to process these foods. Your cells’ mitochondria, responsible for digesting fuel, begin shutting down. Sugar remains in your blood, and you end up with high blood sugar. Missing sleep can actually make your fat cells 30% less able to handle insulin. Keep yourself awake, and you’ll need supplemental health insurance.

7) After 24 hours with no sleep, you are less able to function normally than a person whose blood alcohol level is 0.05%.

Cognitive functioning, including reaction time, decision making, and memory are hit hard. (At this point in reading the article, you are probably no longer wondering how to sleep less, but are beginning to feel quite sleepy … This is normal. We don’t claim to be an agency for online counseling.) A new company in Vancouver, BC called Fatigue Science was born after the co-founder’s nephew was killed in a fatigue-related accident. The company assesses how workplaces handle worker fatigue, which should be considered a workplace hazard, especially in careers like construction. 

Fatigue Science developed the Fatigue Science Readiband, a watch worn on the wrist that measures fatigue based on wrist movements – essentially the only current scientific method for measuring fatigue.

8) If you gave up both sleeping and eating, you’d die from lack of sleep before you died of starvation.

Rats deprived of sleep in studies either died, or were in a near-death state, after 11-32 days. It can’t be proved if it was strictly the lack of sleep that caused their deaths, or if it was the electric shocks used to wake the rats each time they drifted off. Still, we have some clues that sleep deprivation causes death from non-study sources: people with Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) have a genetically inherited prion disease, one of the major symptoms of which is continual insomnia until death. 

While there are other symptoms of FFI other than insomnia that can be part of the cause of death, some of these symptoms are caused by the insomnia itself: hallucinations, weight loss, and dementia (conditions requiring their own supplemental health care) before dying.

9) The longest record for days without sleep for someone without FFI.

The record belongs to high school student Randy Gardner, who in 1965 was sleep deprived for 11 full days – without the use of stimulant medications or drugs – under verified scientific supervision by a Stanford, one of the best med schools, sleep researcher. Gardner experienced multiple cognitive deficiencies during the experiment, like problems with speech and short memory, and his eyesight also began to suffer. Towards the end, he had hallucinations and paranoia. (Of course, they stopped the experiment before he even got close to dying.) 

Somehow, on the tenth day of the experiment, Gardner was able to beat the researcher at pinball. For people with FFI, the record for continually staying awake is 6 months, belonging to Michael Corke, who of course passed away.

10) Gardner will keep his record forever.

Since Gardner set his record, the Guinness Book of World Records has stopped keeping sleep deprivation records, for worry that people might get hurt or killed by depriving themselves of sleep. You shall get no life insurance quote while considering breaking the record for sleep deprivation on account of the Guinness Book of World Records. However, there has been at least one claim of breaking Gardner’s record, by Tony Wright, of Cornwall, UK. He stayed awake for eleven days and nights. Wright said his healthy raw food diet helped him to succeed. 

He also said he noticed his own speech becoming incomprehensible sometimes during the experiment, and noticed colors seeming abnormally bright. At this point, if you are still considering trying to see how long you can stay awake just for the heck of it, you should probably consider online therapy.

11) If you want some tips from the wild for how to sleep less, look no further.

Giraffes and Asiatic elephants are mammals like we humans are, but they usually sleep less than two hours per night. Evolutionarily, it makes a lot of sense. An animal that huge lying down in the middle of the African savannah is just begging to be lion lunch. Giraffes rarely sleep in increments any longer than five minutes at a time. 

Often, it’s only a half-sleep state, so that they can stay fully standing (since it takes a long, long time for them to stand back up again, which, again, is just asking to be eaten,) with eyes open and ears twitching, while still getting some rest. Adult giraffes actually sleep only an average of 30 minutes a night.

12) Koalas are at the other end of the spectrum: they sleep 22 hours per day on average!

This is because the energy value of their diet, mostly eucalyptus leaves, is rather low, so koalas need to conserve energy as much as possible. In case you were wondering, no, koalas are not “stoned” after eating their eucalyptus leaves. The leaves do contain toxins, however, and besides being low in nutrition, they contain lots of fibrous matter. All of this costs the animal a high amount of energy to digest it. 


Besides sleeping excessively to save energy, koalas also move quite slowly and sluggishly when awake. Luckily, koalas can climb and live in trees! Other large, grounded herbivores, as you just learned, often sleep less than an hour daily in order to avoid predators.

13) Dolphins and whales must retain consciousness in half of their brains, even while asleep.

This is because they are conscious breathers, unlike people. Keeping half of their brain awake allows them to consciously keep breathing. For example, the bottlenose dolphin puts half of its brain to sleep, as well as the opposite eye, when sleeping. The other brain half stays awake, in a small level of consciousness. This allows the dolphin to continue to watch for predators, obstacles, and animals, while sleeping. 

It also tells the dolphin when to swim up, break the surface, and breathe fresh oxygen (while sleeping!) After two hours in this state, the dolphin switches the process, waking the resting side of its brain, and putting the alert side to rest. This process is known as cat napping.


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13 Sleeping Beliefs and Fallacies: You Better Be Aware!

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