Sleep myths: an expert-led study to identify false beliefs about sleep that impinge upon population sleep health practices

Sleep Health. 2019 Aug;5(4):409-417. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2019.02.002. Epub 2019 Apr 17.


Introduction: False beliefs about sleep can persist despite contradicting scientific evidence, potentially impairing population health. Identifying commonly held false beliefs lacking an evidence base ("myths") can inform efforts to promote population sleep health.

Method: We compiled a list of potential myths using Internet searches of popular press and scientific literature. We used a Delphi process with sleep experts (n = 10) from the fields of sleep medicine and research. Selection and refinement of myths by sleep experts proceeded in 3 phases, including focus groups (Phase 1); email-based feedback to edit, add, or remove myths (Phase 2); and closed-ended questionnaires (Phase 3) where experts rated myths on 2 dimensions, falseness and public health significance, using 5-point Likert scale from 1 ("not at all") to 5 ("extremely false").

Results: The current study identified 20 sleep myths. Mean expert ratings of falseness ranged from 5.00 (SD = 0.00) for the statement "during sleep the brain is not active" to 2.50 (SD = 1.07) for the statement "sleeping in during the weekends is a good way to ensure you get adequate sleep." Mean responses to public health significance ranged from 4.63 (SD = 0.74) for debunking the statement that "many adults need only 5 or less hours of sleep for general health" to 1.71 (SD = 0.49) for the statement that "remembering your dreams is a sign of a good night's sleep."

Conclusion: The current study identified commonly held sleep myths that have a limited or questionable evidence base. Ratings provided by experts suggest areas that may benefit from public health education to correct myths and promote healthy sleep.

Keywords: Circadian timing; Population health; Sleep deficiency; Sleep health; Sleep medicine; Social psychology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Population Health*
  • Sleep*