Sleep is just one of those weird things that we don’t totally understand, and sleep disorders are even stranger things. Throughout human history, people have wondered what sleep is, and what happens during this time.
Stories and mythology surrounding sleep problems and sleep disorders range from the Tooth Fairy to the Sandman, the Greek god Hypnos, and many more. However, with the advent of modern science, you would think we have a pretty good handle on what sleep is, and exactly what happens when we sleep.
While this is partly true, scientists believe that while we sleep the body repairs itself, removes toxins, and restores energy, there is still a lot we don’t know. Scientists can’t quite explain certain weird things, sleep disorders like night terrors, people who experience hallucinations at night, or more bizarre sleepwalking incidents. When you dive into the subject, there are a baffling number of weird things that can happen when we sleep. Below, we’ll go over 8 mysterious things that happen during sleep.
1. Sleep Talking
One of the most common strange things that happen during sleep is sleep talking. Also referred to as somniloquy, it’s most common in children, and if you grew up with siblings, you’ve probably heard it before: you wake up in the middle of the night, and hear your sibling in the next room or in your bedroom saying something. You walk over, and realize they’re speaking in their sleep.
While it is most prevalent in adolescents and children, adults can sleep talk, too. You may have noticed your bed partner waking you up with sleep talking before.
The Causes of Sleep Talking
The strangest thing about sleep talking is that it is often connected to negative speech patterns, or swearing, making it that much creepier. Scientists don’t know for certain what causes sleep talking, but they think that mental health conditions or nightmares may play a role.
You may not find sleep talking very creepy, but sleepwalking may leave you slightly freaked out. Sleepwalking, also called somnambulism, is a sleeping disorder characterized by a sleeping person standing up and moving around. It’s been a major feature of popular culture for years, and for good reason: it’s undeniably strange.
Sleepwalking typically happens during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) Stage Three Sleep. This stage of the sleep cycle is what is known as true “deep sleep”. During these stages, breathing becomes deep and slow, and brain waves slow down as well.
A common occurrence during sleepwalking is that it’s difficult to wake up the sleepwalker, and many people believe you should never wake up a sleepwalker.
The weird things about sleepwalking are that the sleepwalkers seem to be aware of their surroundings and actions, but are in a deep sleep at the same time. They can engage in complex activities like changing their clothes, using the bathroom, or rummaging through the refrigerator.
Bizarre sleepwalking incidents include sleep related eating, and some sleepwalkers may engage in binge eating.
Sleep driving is one of the most dangerous sleepwalking behaviors, where an individual unconsciously drives a motorized vehicle. If you have had this experience, it is crucial that you talk to your doctor about it.
The cause of sleepwalking is unknown; however, some scientists believe that sleep medicine can play a role in some cases. Zopiclone and Zolpidem, both of which are sleeping pills, are two examples of drugs that may increase the likelihood of somnambulism. Prescription sleep aid Ambien may also increase the risk of this sleep disorder.
Causes of Sleepwalking
There are quite a few reasons that a person sleep walks. It could be hereditary if one or more family members also sleep walk. Extreme exhaustion, sleep deprivation, taking sleeping pills, having anxiety, having sleep apnea, and going to sleep with a full bladder are other culprits of sleepwalking.
Should You Wake Up a Sleepwalker?
The saying “you should never wake up a sleepwalker” seems to be largely a myth. There is no evidence that suggests you or the sleeping individual will be in danger if you wake them up; however, they will likely be confused once awake, if you can wake them out of their deep sleep. Instead of waking them up, it may be better to simply lead them back to bed.
That being said, if the sleepwalker is putting themselves or someone else in danger, they should be woken up. But, try to do it gently rather than startling them out of sleep with a really loud noise. Dangerous nighttime antics include operating heavy machinery like a vehicle, handling knives or weapons, swimming, and trying to walk down the stairs.
3. Sleep Sex
Sleep sex, or sexsomnia, is exactly what it sounds like. It includes a range of sexual acts while sleeping from sexual vocalizations to masturbation, fondling, and intercourse all while asleep.
This sleep disorder hasn’t been extensively studied; however, research has found that it is most common in males. Like sleepwalking, this parasomnia arises during NREM sleep.
In many cases, sleep sex ends up as just an embarrassing night, or just another one of those weird things that happen at night, but it can leave bed partners feeling like they were sexually assaulted. This is because the person who was engaging in sleep sex was doing so unconsciously; therefore, it remains very heavily challenged when brought to court.
Causes of Sleep Sex
Like sleepwalking, there are several reasons someone experiences sexsomnia. Extreme tiredness, use of illegal drugs, excessive consumption of alcohol, and a sleep environment that is too bright, hot, or cold are among the reasons.
4. Hypnagogic Jerks
This one may have a certain sexual ring to it, but unlike sleep sex, it does not involve sexual activity. Hypnagogic jerks, or hypnic jerks, are sometimes called sleep starts. Unlike other strange things that happen during sleep, it is not considered a sleep disorder. In fact, 60 to 70% of adults experience sleep starts.
A hypnagogic jerk is characterized as the contraction of muscles that results in a sudden movement, usually in response to a falling or tripping sensation. Most commonly, this phenomenon happens as people are falling asleep, or in light sleep cycles.
Some people may also hear a sound or loud noise during this experience, like a loud bang, or even a bright flash. This perception is known as “exploding head syndrome”.
Causes of Hypnagogic Jerks
Sleep scientists believe hypnic jerks to be a totally normal occurrence, but certain factors like nicotine, caffeine, recreational drugs, vigorous exercise, stress, and fatigue may increase the likelihood of experiencing them. Also, if you’re sleep deprived, you may be at a higher risk for having a hypnagogic jerk event.
5. Sleep Paralysis
You can think of this sleep disorder as the opposite of hypnagogic jerks. Hypnic jerks move your muscles unconsciously, while sleep paralysis prevents you from moving. It is one of the most terrifying things someone can experience during sleep, that’s because you literally feel paralyzed, and you may experience hallucinations as well.
Sleep paralysis is when a person wakes up, usually in the morning, and can’t move their body. They may feel fully awake as their brain wakes up, but won’t have control of their muscles. Many people feel terrified when this happens. It can last for a few seconds, or several minutes. While you may feel frightened, it’s important to keep in mind that your body will return to normal, you just have to wait it out.
Some people may feel like they can’t breathe, and others can feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest with sleep paralysis. This is because all of the muscles that control your breathing, except for the diaphragm, aren’t working properly, making breathing uncomfortable or difficult.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
It’s not known what causes this sleep disorder to happen, or why it happens, yet there are some factors that may increase the likelihood of experiencing this strange sleep disorder. They include:
- Disrupted sleep patterns from jet lag, late nights, shift work, etc.
- Narcolepsy: A condition that results in individuals quickly falling asleep.
- Insomnia: A sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and/or wakes you up early in the morning.
- Other psychological conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, and panic disorders.
- A family history of the disorder may also increase your chances of experiencing it yourself.
6. Recurring Dreams
Have you ever experienced a dream where you’re in the same place with the same people doing the same thing? Perhaps you’re back at your high school, giving a presentation in front of your class, but you’re not wearing your underwear. If you consistently have this dream, then it is what’s called a recurring dream.
Causes of Recurring Dreams
The exact causes of recurring dreams are not known. However, many people who experience recurring dreams report that these dreams are based on reality, or real-life experiences. For example, if you have a high school presentation recurring dream, it may be based on a presentation you had when you were younger, and your brain is reliving this scenario, even if it isn’t exactly realistic.
Other causes that accompany dreams like this explain that this is a way for your brain to process and evaluate past experiences before filing them away as memories. Or, if you had a traumatic experience, you could have a recurring dream about it until you can come to terms with it.
7. Sleep Terrors and Nightmares
Nightmares are dreams that make the sleeper feel anxious or fearful, and cause them to wake up during the night. Nightmares are very common, especially for children, and are not concerning unless they happen frequently. A nightmare disorder is characterized by frequent nightmares that disturb sleep, and can be completely terrifying.
Sleep terrors are not the same as nightmares. People who’ve experienced sleep terrors may wake up in the middle of the night, screaming and/or crying in fear. It usually lasts for about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, and may make your pupils dilate, your heartrate increase, and your breathing increase.
Causes of Sleep Terrors and Nightmares
Here again, extreme fatigue along with stress and sleep disruption can cause sleep terrors. Medication and mood disorders are other causes, as are alcohol use, and having sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.
8. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (SBD) is a sleep disorder that causes a person to act out their dreams during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This can include vocalizing, thrashing, and even getting out of bed, and moving around. These behaviors can be dangerous, as they can lead to injury to the person or their bed partner, both often they are harmless.
RBD typically occurs in middle-aged or older men, but it can also occur in women and younger people. The condition is often associated with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and Multiple System Atrophy, but it can also occur in people without these conditions.
Causes of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
The cause of RBD is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to changes in the brain that occur during REM sleep. The brain regions responsible for muscle tone are less active during REM sleep, which allows the muscles to relax. In people with RBD, this muscle relaxation does not occur, allowing the person to act out their dreams.
Diagnosis of RBD typically involves a sleep study, called polysomnography (PSG). This study will monitor the person's brain activity, muscle tone, and movements during sleep.
Treatment for RBD may include seeing a sleep specialist, and receiving medications such as melatonin and Clonazepam, which can help to reduce muscle tone during REM sleep. In some cases, physical therapy or occupational therapy may also be recommended to help improve enough muscle tone, and reduce the risk of injury.
It is important for people with RBD to take steps to make their sleeping environment safe, such as using a bed rail or bed alarm, or sleeping on a mattress on the floor.
Latex For Less: No Mysteries Here
There’s a lot we don’t know about sleep, especially when it comes to sleep disorders, although scientists are discovering more every year. That being said, there is one thing we know for certain: a great, high-quality mattress results in better sleep. While we can’t say that our mattresses are night terror-resistant, they are resistant to other undesirable things, like mold and dust mites. Plus, if you’re going to be woken up by nightmares or hypnic jerks, wouldn’t you prefer to sink back into a comfortable and supportive mattress?
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