Shining a light on the things that go bump in the night: fact vs fiction

Monsters can’t get you if you’re under the sheets

We would be lying if we said we don’t still panic-sprint up the stairs and dive under the covers after turning off the lights in our house at night. Regardless of how irrational it sounds in the daylight, many people still struggle with feeling overly vulnerable when they’re trying to fall asleep and they haven’t properly curled up under their sheets. And heaven forbid we leave our toes sticking out - otherwise they may not be there when we wake up in the morning. If we wake up at all…

While our fears about uncovered body parts being targets for closet monsters may be unwarranted, our instinct to cover up at night is not. It’s actually an evolutionary development, left over from the times when we were still relying on caves and moss to keep us hidden from Saber-Toothed Everythings at night. Most of our vital organs live in our torsos, so it’s natural for us to feel uncomfortable when they’re not covered by at least a thin layer of clothing or blankets. Likewise, our extremities are highly sensitive, especially when our vision is impaired, so we become highly vigilant and aware of our surroundings if our toes or fingers are hanging off the edge of the bed, even if there’s nothing there. So while there may not be any real danger in letting it all proverbially hang out, your ancient-trained brain will probably still convince you otherwise.

If you die in your sleep, you die in real life.

While this “fact” is a schoolyard favorite, it’s fortunately just fiction. Plenty of people have dreamed about falling to their deaths or drowning, but wake up in the morning very much alive, if a little shaken. While this myth is difficult to trace back to one source, some people believe it comes from a belief that dying in a dream is a total loss of the ego, which can only be achieved through death. Others believe it was passed on after Southeast Asian Vietnam War refugees started dying in their sleep, which led people to believe that their nightmares about death caused their actual death.

While death dreams don’t lead to death realities, there is a rare condition known as Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome, or SUNDS, which is more prevalent in those Southeast Asian communities. It typically affects adolescents and adults, and causes the heart to simply stop working for undetectable or completely unexplained reasons. Now that’s something to lose sleep over.

If you don’t treat insomnia, you could never fall asleep again.

Insomnia is an incredibly complicated disorder, and it usually requires a combination of medication, psychological evaluation, and psychological treatment to manage. It can be temporary or a lifelong condition, and varies person to person. But even the worst cases of insomnia typically result in the sufferer’s eventual snooze, brief as it may be. The real cause of “waking death” can be chalked up to something else entirely. Here’s a hint: moo.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease, is a rare prion disease that attacks the part of the brain that manages sleep. The human variant is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), and it’s so rare that less than ten deaths have ever been recorded in US history. People who suffer from vCJD simply stop sleeping, and as a result do not survive longer than a few months. Don’t let that keep you up at night, though. It only affects one in a few million people around the world each year, and common insomnia is highly treatable.

So rest easy knowing most of the proverbial monsters under your bed are little more than dust bunnies. Curl up between the sheets - or not! - and hold a fuzzy friend close. Close your eyes, and in the morning the darkness will give way to the sun.