Sleep takes up the better part of a third of our lives, so we ought to know exactly what it does for us, shouldn’t we?
We all sleep, it’s an involuntary response all human beings need and is absolutely vital to our survival — a necessity, really, for much if not all of life on the planet, but many of us have no idea what happens when we sleep. It’s mechanical, and those of us without sleep problems probably don’t think too much about it.
Aside from the obvious, rest, sleep accomplishes much, much more than handing us our forty-winks like repair and healing, but like most things, sleep has, shall we say, a humorous side too, and can create a range of strange to downright frighteningly odd activity in the body, and most of it happens without us even knowing.
One. Crazy Brain You might think your brain takes a breather right along with the rest of your body while you are asleep, but actually during the REM phase of sleep, the stage of sleep most associated with dreaming, there is an increase in the firing rate of most neurons throughout the brain, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and this can happen more than one time every sleep cycle. Eventually the brain does switch off, but it happens in stages, so the old adage going out like a light couldn’t be further from the truth.
Two. Sleep Falling These involuntary twitches are called hypnic jerks, and up to 70 percent of people experience them. Sleep scientists are not certain why exactly they occur, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, one theory suggests they happen as a result of a “natural downshifting of the nervous system that occurs as you fall asleep.” Another theory claims that the brain “misinterprets the relaxing of muscles as a sign that you’re actually falling.” Caffeine, stress, and sleep deprivation can increase the frequency of hypnic jerks.
Three. Our Head “Explodes” It’s a phenomenon just as weird as it sounds. A person will suddenly wake up with a start, as if having heard a really loud noise, like an explosion. Quickly following being awake, the person will get an uneasy sense that their head is exploding, but in reality, nothing has actually happened.
Exploding Head Syndrome is a type of hypnagogic jerk, similar to feeling like you’re falling. You are heading toward deep sleep, but your body hasn’t achieved paralysis yet, and your senses suddenly are turned back on, jolting you awake again. It’s an uneasy feeling but perfectly safe.
Four. Gas During our waking hours, we are so aware of the social embarrassment of passing gas that we can go to great lengths to avoid someone else knowing about it. But flatulating doesn’t stop when we fall asleep, we are just not aware of it. On the contrary, you are more likely to expel gas when you are sleep because all of the muscles relax when we’re asleep, including the anal sphincter.
However, when you do inevitably nocturnally pass gas, this likely won’t bother you or your partner because you are both asleep. Also, sense of smell is decreased during sleep too, so there’s nothing to be ashamed about.
Five. Paralysis Researchers believe sleep paralysis is caused by a disturbed rapid eye movement cycle as it mostly happens to people who are falling into, or coming out of REM sleep. During that stage, our brains normally paralyze the body’s muscles — so we don’t act out our dreams.
It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking. People describe it like a heavy weight is pressing on their chest and movement is inhibited. All the body’s muscles, except for those that control breathing, can remain paralyzed anywhere from a few seconds to almost up to minute.
Six. Loss of Smell Scientists that study human olfaction, conclude the nose is insufficiently sensitive as we sleep, which is one reason we need to have smoke alarms in our homes, because our sense of smell is so poor. It’s just one of those weird things our body does, like turning off extra lights in the house to save energy, our body turns off nonessential functions during sleep.
Seven. Halluciations Sleep hallucinations or Hypnagogic hallucinations can happen as we are falling asleep. They are not a dream per se, because sleep hallucinations often happen very quickly after falling asleep, but vivid illusions. They may involve images, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, sounds, movement, or feelings of flying or falling.
Sleep hallucinations can feel much more real than dreams. While not usually a risk to health, they can sometimes be a sign of narcolepsy, schizophrenia or Parkinson’s disease.
Eight. Nocturnal Groaning This sleep phenom is similar to snoring, but Catathrenia, described as groaning sounds, is emitted during exhalation and mostly, if not totally during the deep REM stage of sleep. This nocturnal groaning isn’t linked to any worrisome medical conditions and doesn’t lead to sleep deprivation — unless you are in-shot of a groaner.
Sleep experts seem to think nocturnal groaning is not connected or not related in any way to sleep-talking and there seems to be no connection to general breathing problems or sleep related issues.
Sleep scientists have mostly ruled out any abnormal brain activity or mental disorders, or any other sleep related disorders in general related to the not often documented disorder, and the actual cause of the groaning in people is still a relative mystery.