Debunking Sleep Myths: Do People Swallow Spiders In Their Sleep?

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Urban legend says human ingest eight spiders each year while sleeping. Here’s what really happens.

Maybe you know someone with arachnophobia, a textbook case of spider fear. For those who are afflicted, just thinking about the eight-legged creatures is the stuff nightmares are made of. Even people with more benign views of spiders are less than thrilled to find one crawling around their home. Scarier still is the longstanding urban legend that the average person swallows eight arachnids each year while sleeping. Could that really be true?

A Case of Avoidance
The short answer is: Probably not. No one has hard data on how many spiders we accidentally swallow while we’re sound asleep, but there’s no evidence to back up the “eight spiders a year” claim. In fact, most logic points to the fact that it’s probably not true. Not only do we move around in our sleep frequently enough to deter the critters from crawling over us, but spiders also tend to avoid interactions with predators (i.e. humans) whenever possible.

Where the Rumor Started
The myth seems to stem from a 1993 magazine article that poked fun at how people are quick to believe fake facts that are written on the internet and in emails. The author included a fictional spider statistic as an example of outlandish things people are willing to believe. Ironically, the false fact began to spread by word-of-mouth and email, and before long people were passing it on as the truth.

The Real Deal
Of course, some humans do have middle-of-the-night run-ins with spiders, particularly those who live in remote areas, or places where arachnids are prevalent. There are reports of people being bitten in their sleep by spiders, and the suggestion that one of these critters could accidentally crawl into a snoozing person’s open mouth and become accidentally swallowed isn’t impossible to fathom. But you can sleep soundly knowing that in the odd event that it does occur, swallowing spiders is by no means common and it’s highly unlikely that it would occur more than once—let alone eight times—in the course of the year.