25 Facts You Didn’t Know About Sleep

Think you know all there is to know about sleep? Think again. Everyday, scientists find out interesting and unique things about the human sleep cycle. Check out the facts you didn’t know about sleep patterns and who knows, they might even help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer on your foam mattress tonight!

The National Sleep Research Project team has come up with hundreds of interesting facts you are probably not aware of concerning sleep. Here are a handful of them:

1. The record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes during a rocking chair marathon. The record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses.

2. It’s impossible to tell if someone is really awake without close medical supervision. People can take cat naps with their eyes open without even being aware of it.

3. Anything less than five minutes to fall asleep at night means you’re sleep deprived. The ideal is between 10 and 15 minutes, meaning you’re still tired enough to sleep deeply, but not so exhausted you feel sleepy by day.

4. A new baby typically results in 400-750 hours of lost sleep for parents in the first year

5. One of the best predictors of insomnia later in life is the development of bad habits from having sleep disturbed by young children.

6. The continuous brain recordings that led to the discovery of REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep were not done until 1953, partly because the scientists involved were concerned about wasting paper.

7. REM sleep occurs in bursts totaling about 2 hours a night, usually beginning about 90 minutes after falling asleep.

8. Dreams, once thought to occur only during REM sleep, also occur (but to a lesser extent) in non-REM sleep phases. It’s possible there may not be a single moment of our sleep when we are actually dreamless.

9. REM dreams are characterised by bizarre plots, but non-REM dreams are repetitive and thought-like, with little imagery – obsessively returning to a suspicion you left your mobile phone somewhere, for example.

10. Certain types of eye movements during REM sleep correspond to specific movements in dreams, suggesting at least part of the dreaming process is analogous to watching a film

11. No one knows for sure if other species dream but some do have sleep cycles similar to humans.

12. Elephants sleep standing up during non-REM sleep, but lie down for REM sleep.

13.  Some scientists believe we dream to fix experiences in long-term memory, that is, we dream about things worth remembering. Others reckon we dream about things worth forgetting – to eliminate overlapping memories that would otherwise clog up our brains.

14. Dreams may not serve any purpose at all but be merely a meaningless byproduct of two evolutionary adaptations – sleep and consciousness.

15. REM sleep may help developing brains mature. Premature babies have 75 percent REM sleep, 10 percent more than full-term bubs. Similarly, a newborn kitten, puppy or hamster experiences only REM sleep, while a newborn guinea pig (which is much more developed at birth) has almost no REM sleep at all.

16. Scientists have not been able to explain a 1998 study showing a bright light shone on the backs of human knees can reset the brain’s sleep-wake clock.

17. British Ministry of Defence researchers have been able to reset soldiers’ body clocks so they can go without sleep for up to 36 hrs. Tiny optical fibres embedded in special spectacles project a ring of bright white light (with a spectrum identical to a sunrise) around the edge of soldiers’ retinas, fooling them into thinking they have just woken up. The system was first used on U.S. pilots during the bombing of Kosovo.

18. Seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%.

19. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, the Challenger space shuttle disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident have all been attributed to human errors in which sleep-deprivation played a role.

20. The NRMA estimates fatigue is involved in one in 6 fatal road accidents.

21. Exposure to noise at night can suppress immune function even if the sleeper doesn’t wake. Unfamiliar noise, and noise during the first and last two hours of sleep, has the greatest disruptive effect on the sleep cycle.

22. The “natural alarm clock” which enables some people to wake up more or less when they want to is caused by a burst of the stress hormone adrenocorticotropin. Researchers say this reflects an unconscious anticipation of the stress of waking up.

23. Some sleeping tablets, such as barbiturates suppress REM sleep, which can be harmful over a long period.

24. In insomnia following bereavement, sleeping pills can disrupt grieving.

25. Tiny luminous rays from a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt the sleep cycle, even if you don’t fully wake.

Try to remember these facts the next time you go to sleep at night, they could help you drift off to dream land a lot quicker!

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Amber Merton

Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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