Despite spending around one-third of our lives in the land of nod, sleep still holds many mysteries. Scientists are chipping away at the details, but the wonder of slumber is much more complex than it appears. In this Special Feature, we dispel some common myths.

Share on PinterestSleep is mysterious, but science is chipping away at the details.

Many animals need sleep of some kind, and if evolution has retained a behavior across many species, it must be important.

After all, lying unconscious for hours does not seem like the safest activity for an animal in the wild. So whatever goes on during sleep is vital.

“Those little slices of death,” as Edgar Allen Poe referred to sleep, help maintain good physical and mental health. The long-term effects of sleep loss are associated with a range of health conditions, including diabetes, depression, stroke, and more.

However, because sleep has a perpetual association with the ethereal: dreams, altered states, and emotions, it is no surprise that it is tied to a legion of myths.

In this Special Feature, we address some of the most common myths related to the ubiquitous snooze.

1. Your brain shuts down during sleep

Thankfully, our brains do not quit their day job during sleep. Important functions, such as breathing, mean our brains can never fully shut down. In fact, during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when most dreams occur, brain wave activity is like that of wakefulness.

Interestingly, despite the high level of activity, it is hardest to wake a sleeper during REM sleep. This is why this stage of sleep is sometimes called paradoxical sleep.

While we sleep, our white and gray matter has much to do. Once we have dropped off, our brain cycles through three stages of non-REM sleep, followed by one phase of REM sleep. In each of the four stages, the brain demonstrates specific brain wave patterns and neuronal activity.

This cycle of four stages repeats five or six times during a full night’s sleep.

While some regions of the brain fall quiet during non-REM sleep, other areas leap into action. For instance, the amygdala, most famous for its role in emotion, is active during slumber.


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