Sleep BS and Have I mentioned That I Despise Infographics?
I really, really hate infographics.
They’re worse than memes. Well, I guess technically they are memes. They are notoriously inaccurate. They are usually agenda-driven and often spin facts to the point of wrongness. But mostly I just see them as click bait.
I have less disdain for listicles, but they sometimes bug me, too.
When this piece popped up in my Facebook feed, it caught my eye. It’s a listicle. About sleep. And number one on the list is stupid. So of course I decided to investigate further. Being a fairly well-read general psychologist, I have enough knowledge about sleep to evaluate most of the items on the list, but not all. The first step in evaluating is to take a look at the source material.
The only source is a link. The link goes to–surprise, surprise–an infographic.
Actually, it goes to an infographic that was re-posted from another site where I assume it originated (embedded below).
The graphic itself cites sources at the bottom, so I dug in. But before I talk about the source material, let’s take a look at the list.
1. We can only dream about faces we have already seen, whether we actively remember them or not.
Um, what? As opposed to faces that we haven’t seen?
No, we can’t “see” the faces of real people we’ve never seen, but we are perfectly capable of making up faces in our dreams. People we make up are certainly people we’ve never seen.
2. When dolphins sleep, only half their brain shuts down. The other half stays awake to help with breathing cycles.
True. Dolphins and whales sleep one hemisphere at a time.
3. Men have dreams about other men 70% of the time. But women dream about women and men equally.
I haven’t seen this in any of my textbooks, nor have I read any studies that confirm this. I’m skeptical, but it’s one of those factoids that, if true, I’d think “so what?”
4. While you are sleeping your body recharges, your cells repair themselves, and your body releases important hormones.
5. Parasomnia is a type of sleep disorder that makes you do unnatural movements despite being asleep. Crimes committed on parasomnia include: sleep driving, writing bad cheques, murder, child molesting and sexual assault.
True (although they’re talking about a specific type of parasomnia) and FASCINATING. When I taught introductory psychology, we spent the most class time on parasomnias because it’s so fascinating. Share your sleepwalking stories in the comments because I never tire of them.
6. 12% of people dream only in black and white. This number used to be higher but since the advent of color television, more people dream in color than before.
Another bit I’ve never heard. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I also don’t know why it matters.
7. Dreaming is normal. People who do not dream generally have personality disorders.
This is bullshit. First, dreaming isn’t just normal, but it’s something that everyone does. People who say that they don’t dream simply don’t remember their dreams.
And no, failing to remember your dreams absolutely does not mean that you have a personality disorder.
No. Nuh uh. Not remotely.
8. Sleep positions may determine your personality.
Um, no. No “may” about it. This is about as true as saying your favorite color determines your personality.
9. 1 in 4 married couples sleep in separate beds.
Again, I don’t recall ever hearing about or reading a statistic on this, but 1 in 4 seems awfully high to me. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. There are lots of reasons for it. But 1 in 4? I’m skeptical.
10. British soldiers were the first to develop a method in staying up 36 hours without sleep. When fatigued, they put on special visors that emulated the brightness of a sunrise and it woke them up.
I can’t confirm this, but it’s plausible.
11. Longest sleeping mammals are koalas (22 hours) and the shortest sleeping are giraffes (1.9 hours taken in 5-10 minute sessions).
May be true. But seriously, who cares?
12. You need different amounts of sleep depending on your age. Babies need the most (16 hours) and people over 65 need the least (6 hours).
Although it is true that age matters when it comes to sleep requirements, there is a lot of variability among individuals and the recommendations have changed in recent years. In general, the older you are, the less sleep you probably need, but most Americans are at least a little sleep deprived.
13. You’ll die from sleep deprivation before food deprivation. It takes 2 weeks to starve, but 10 days without sleep can kill you.
I have to wonder where this one came from.
First, the term “sleep deprivation” includes too little sleep, not just no sleep.
Sleep deprivation can have very serious health effects. However, one does not usually die from lack of sleep. It’s sort of like dying from holding your breath. You can’t. You’ll eventually pass out and your body will resume breathing without your will to do so.
One can certainly die from the health problems that sleep deprivation contributes to or may even cause, but in 10 days? Not likely. There aren’t a whole lot of documented cases of total deprivation, so I can’t even guess where this number came from.
At most I think that we can say that sleep is necessary for good health. Might even say that you don’t want to go without it, but if you do, you just mind find yourself in a situation in which you have no longer have a choice.
14. Blind people can still see images in dreams. Those born blind experience dreams involving emotion, sound, smell, and touch instead of sight.
Well, of course. Our brain activity when dreaming is very similar to waking states. The biggest difference is that the information isn’t coming in through our senses. It makes sense that the experience would mimic the life our brain has developed to experience.
15. Within 5 minutes of waking up, 50% of your dream is forgotten. Within 10 minutes, 90% is gone.
This is just made up.
16. 1 out of 50 teenagers still wet their beds.
I looked at about a dozen sources and all put the number at 1-2 in 100, so I think 1 in 50 is the highest in the range of estimates. But the statement is a bit misleading in that it suggests that it’s a chronic problem for that many teens. The estimate includes those who experience a bed wetting incident once in their teen years, which is probably the majority of cases.
So that’s it. A few fun facts, some boring and unverified factoids, and some outright bits of bullshit. That’s what happens when you regurgitate something that was regurgitated by someone else using something that was copied from something else that was created by someone who basically made stuff up.
Now let’s take a look at the ‘citations’.
The source list for the infographic is printed on the bottom of the graphic itself, so I dug in. There are 16 citations and 16 list items, but they don’t appear to be related to one another in a one-on-one fashion at least.
The first source is a site called “MEDPAGE TODAY”. It’s not a bad piece, but I can’t find an item on the infographic that corresponds to what’s discussed on the page.
The next three sources resulted in error pages. The second of these defunct links is to–another surprise–a LISTICLE. Someone was kind enough to post this one in a forum, so we can see the original content. Unfortunately, no citations were included.
The next item, sleepapnea.org, documented only the main page of the website. I cannot tell which “facts” were gleaned from this source.
Item number 6 is a Slate piece about sleeping with your dog. There is nothing in the infographic or the listicle about sleeping with your dog.
The next three are news articles about parasomnia. Two are dead-ends. So three links to support one item on the list and two are outdated (giving the author the benefit of the doubt).
The next link is incomplete, so there’s no way to access it, and the one that follows that one is the same as link number 2.
The next link might be the jackpot. It’s a site cataloging “interesting facts about dreams”. It lists 99 items from seven sources. One of those sources is specific and the rest are for-the-masses books like “The Big Book of Dreams”.
Then there are a few more dead ends and a final page that doesn’t appear to correspond to anything on the list.
Okay, so now we have some idea of where this stuff came from (don’t say it), but not much.