Most of us spend one-third of the day doing it, yet many of us don’t really know that much about it. Science is just beginning to understand sleep and dreams, and several of the things discovered over the past decade are incredibly interesting.
12 Facts You Should Know About Sleep
Researchers studying rest, dreams and the effects of sleep loss or deprivation have uncovered breakthroughs highlighting the incredible importance of rest. From diseases to weight to brain health and safety, see how sleep affects your mind and body.
You Have to Sleep to Live
While studies have not been done on humans for obvious reasons, animal studies have shown that extended periods of sleep deprivation results in death. Fatal factors attributed to a lack of rest include immunosuppression, low body temperature, extreme stress, organ failure and brain damage.
There is also a very rare genetic disorder called Fatal Familial Insomnia that gradually prevents sufferers from sleeping, and usually results in death within 18 months. Science knows that the brain and body heal and renew during sleep, but the exact reasons why most lifeforms must sleep is not yet understood.
You Can Affect Your Dreams
From sleep position, to diet, to what you think about or watch before bed, your behaviors can actually influence your dreams according to several studies. For example, stomach sleepers are more likely to experience erotic dreams, left side sleepers may have more nightmares, and right side sleepers tend to have more pleasant dreams.
Thinking positive thoughts before bed, dealing with stress during the day and making your environment pleasant can help you have better dreams. Though research has demonstrated we can influence dreams, science doesn’t yet understand why or how we dream. Hypotheses include memory consolidation, sorting through the day’s stimuli, or that they are just random and pointless.
Drowsy Driving is Worse Than Drunk Driving
You’ve surely heard of the dangers of driving intoxicated, but did you know that driving tired may actually make you more impaired? Studies have confirmed that as little as 17 hours of wakefulness can affect your reaction times, concentration, and decision making abilities, and that being awake over 24 hours is equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10%, above the legal limit in most places. Even a split second microsleep can put you and others in danger, and it’s estimated that drowsy driving is a factor in 100,000 accidents and 1550 fatalities annually.
Sleep Occurs in Cycles
When you’re catching Zzz’s, your body actually cycles through different phases in which your brain and body have different levels of activity and awareness. In Stage 1, your body winds down and you are sleeping very lightly. In Stage 2, your body temperature drops and heart rate slows as you enter a deeper, but still light, sleep.
During Stage 3, you enter deep sleep with slow brain waves and issues like sleepwalking and night terrors are most likely in this phase. The final stage is REM sleep, the deepest phase where your brain is most active and when you are most likely to experience dreams. A typical cycle would go 1-2-3-2-REM, which repeats from stage 2 several times per night. If stages 3 or 4 are interrupted, you may feel groggy upon waking and less well-rested in the morning.
Artificial Light Changed How We Sleep
The invention of the electric light bulb and the Industrial Revolution shortened the length of time people rest as well as how we snooze. Before electric lighting became widespread, it’s hypothesized that people typically rested about 12 hours at night in two phases, punctuated by a 2-3 hour wakeful period in between. Some researchers believe that this format is the ideal sleep situation for humans still.
Frequent Exercise Improves Sleep
Regular exercise can improve your rest over time, and it may be as beneficial as pharmaceutical sleep aids without the side effects. One study of older adults found that sleep increased by an average of 45 minutes per night after 4 months of participants exercising 30 minutes, 5 times per week.
Many Couples Sleep Apart
According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, about 25% of couples actually spend the night in separate beds or separate rooms. A Canadian study estimated it may even be as high as 30-40%. People’s reasons include disturbances like snoring or movements, having different comfort preferences or schedules, or simply preferring privacy.
For some couples, it’s the only way to get a peaceful night’s rest. One study found that a lack of rest makes couples more hostile and argumentative towards each other. So, when sleep is at stake, snoozing apart could actually be better for the relationship so long as you still spend quality time together.
Children and Teens Need Lots Of Sleep
The standard of 8 hours per night is an average amount for adults. However, infants need up to 15 hours, toddlers need up to 14 hours, school-age children up to 11 hours, and teens up to 9.5 hours. This is because developing brains and growing bodies require extensive rest. In fact, studies have shown that children getting adequate amounts of rest perform better cognitively, have better language development, and have better temperaments.
Not Sleeping Can Lead to Weight Gain
Studies have found that sleeping less than 7 hours per night increases risks for diabetes and obesity. The less sleep a person gets, the greater their risk with the ideal amount being 7.7 hours per night. Another university study found that in young women, inconsistent sleep-wake schedules were associated with higher BMIs.
Falling Asleep Instantly is Bad
If you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, it may be a sign of an underlying problem according to the FDA. You may either be sleep-deprived, or if you get an adequate amount, this could be a symptom of sleep apnea (which affects the quality of sleep you get). The average healthy person takes 10-20 minutes to enter dreamland.
You Really Do Have an Internal Clock
Your circadian biological clock is the internal mechanism that regulates sleepiness and wakefulness. It functions best when you get 20 minutes or more of direct sunlight exposure during the day and when you maintain a regular bedtime and wake time. Your clock can get thrown off due to hormones (teens tend to sleep and wake later, for example) and by irregular schedules (shift work, jet lag or staying up late a few nights a week), which can make it hard to fall asleep or make you overly tired during the day.
Temperature Matters to Sleep
Studies have found that people get the best quality rest in cool temperatures. The sweet spot isn’t precise, but is estimated to be between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Room temperatures above and below this range may impair deep sleep, and though your body should be cool, you want your feet and hands to stay slightly warmer.
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of health alongside nutrition and fitness. The more you know about rest, the better equipped you are to adopt healthy habits and get the most out of every night. Although we still have a lot to learn, we know that optimizing your environment, sticking to regular schedule, and allowing yourself enough time for rest are among the most important things you can do to sleep better.
If you know of any interesting or obscure sleep factoids, feel free to share below!