Odd things Our Bodies Are Secretly Capable Of While We Sleep
Sleepwalking is possible. As we explained before, when we go to sleep, our neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine are active, so our muscles will “shut down”… Trista - September 29, 2022
As we explained before, when we go to sleep, our neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine are active, so our muscles will “shut down” and not move while we sleep. But for some, that paralyzing safety measure will not activate, ending with their bodies moving while they dream. This is what causes some people to sleepwalk and reenact what they are dreaming. There can be many reasons why people sleepwalk; it can be something that runs in the family, sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol, depression, or even a fever.
Some people’s symptoms can go from mild to severe. It can be as simple as just standing at the foot of the bed, going around the house, moving furniture, or something more dangerous as cooking or even stepping outside your home.
Your body changes from light sleep to a deeper state.
For us to fall asleep, our body goes through a few stages before we rest and heal from all the work we did during the day. They called these stages Non-REM (NREM) sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. You fall into NREM after you dozed off. This is when you go thru light and deep sleep cycles.
In this stage, your brain commences by producing alpha waves which specify a state or non-arousal, and theta waves which are a light state of daydreaming, to create slower delta waves. This is when you go into a deeper state, and it’s also when your body starts repairing your tissues, muscles, and anything else that needs healing. Your brain can also produce dreams. However, the main objective is to help your body rest and strengthen your immune system.
When you don’t sleep well, you have Adenosine buildup.
Medical professionals are always talking about the importance of having a good night’s sleep for a reason. There are so many things happening that to be functional human beings during the day, giving time to your body to rest is vital. When you have a few days of barely sleeping or not sleeping at all, exhaustion takes over, which happens when there’s an adenosine buildup.
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that regulates your sleep-wake homeostasis. So, when you’re awake, the adenosine levels increase, and when you go down to sleep, your body breaks it down. This is why people who haven’t rested well or have sleeping disorders, feel sleepy and tired all the time. Not giving the body time to get rid of adenosine can be a problem, especially when you are trying to concentrate or do things that need your brain to be working in optimal conditions.
We talked about sleepwalking, which is most commonly compared to this one, but it’s as bizarre. Some people who sleepwalk can go to the kitchen and start eating whatever they can find. So how can this happen? Well, when your body is stuck between being in a deep sleep state and awake at the same time, people can do all kinds of things, depending on what they’re dreaming.
The odd thing is that people with this disorder can’t remember anything that happens during sleep eating, and it can happen every night, sometimes more than once. It’s not as if the person is hungry and their bodies ask them to eat or drink. They don’t need to have any type of cravings for them to eat. It has been shown that sleep eaters tend to go for high-calorie foods that are thick and sugary, like peanut butter, donuts, or syrup.
Some dreams feel so real that it feels like your brain is playing tricks on you. So, what if you take control of what you want to dream? Well, some people can do that and can control some parts of their dreams by being conscious while in REM, also knowns as the dream state. Around 55% of the population have experienced Lucid dreaming in their lifetime. Some say they can control when they can have it with exercises you can do before bed.
Acknowledging that you are dreaming of controlling the situation feels a bit tricky. Nevertheless, there are things you can do to try to get into that state. For example, lying down in bed and relaxing enough to experience a hypnagogic hallucination, which happens as you are about to sleep while trying to stay conscious. There is also the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD), which is thinking of a recent dream before falling asleep, identifying something strange to happen, and focusing enough on it until you force yourself to go back to that dream.
Most people experience REM sleep cycles around six times per night, and it’s the moment where we have most of our dreams, with each cycle lasting around 90 minutes. It’s a lot of time to spend in dreamland. Because of it, the REM cycle is when our brain becomes more active and lets us process all the information and moments that happen in our day.
While we can dream in Non-REM states, the most creative dreams happen when our eyes are moving rapidly. Dreams in NREM are more realistic and are mostly about things that have happened to us, which is a way of storing those memories in our brains. So, when you have very abstract and crazy dreams and feel all types of emotions, it means that you are in REM, and your brain is working hard to organize your thoughts too.
Do you ever wonder why your body never wakes up during the night because of a full bladder? Your body wants to focus on rest. So, to do that, your brain produces an antidiuretic hormone called vasopressin or antidiuretic hormone (ADH). It causes your kidneys to release less water, causing a reduction in the production of urine. Your kidney will reabsorb the water and keep it running thru your system, also preventing you from dehydration.
Although there are people that do have to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, most people don’t have to and can go when they wake up. This is known as nocturia, which can be caused by various conditions like a kidney infection, overactive bladder, pregnancy, prostate conditions, and more.
If you have ever seen someone having very intense movements while sleeping, especially on the extremities, they are experiencing a full-body jerk. It’s something that happens to 70% of the population, and even though it might look scary sometimes, it’s normal. Some experts think it happens when you go to bed feeling anxious or stressed or have an irregular sleep schedule. However, others believe it’s something that happens randomly with no explanation.
These spasms occur mostly while falling asleep and only affect one part of your body, like a leg or arm. Sometimes it is accompanied by a dream you are trying to act on. Some patients say that it happens while they dream of falling or flying or seeing flashing lights.
Hypnic headaches are rare and disruptive to your sleep and cause you to wake up abruptly. This is why it is also known as alarm clock headaches. Why? Because most of the time, the person can’t easily go back to sleep. A specific condition does not cause these types of headaches. Thus, doctors primarily consider them a headache disorder. Researchers are not sure of the reason why they happen.
They mostly occur while in REM sleep and may happen in an area of the brain that does the pain processing. They also believed there might be a link with the production of melatonin, with some research suggesting that there may be a disturbance in the underlying rhythm that regulates melatonin production, which can end with hypnic headaches.
This one might be embarrassing if you sleep with your partner. Nevertheless, it’s something that we cannot control and is completely normal. Maybe you didn’t know this, but everyone passes gas while sleeping thanks to your anal sphincter muscles being slightly loose and relaxed, causing that gases can pass easily.
As embarrassing as it sounds for someone to hear you toot, you can rest assured that they might not even smell it. While we sleep, our sense of smell is reduced, making it harder for our partner to smell gas, and this is the reason why fire alarms were invented since most people can’t smell fire while they sleep. So, you can sleep well knowing that your partner won’t smell or hear your farts while you are sleeping. Just let it flow and rest happy.
REM is an essential part of our sleep process, and one of the most notable things that happen physically while we’re on it is a lot of eye movement. That causes eye twitching during sleep. Scientists are not sure why it happens exactly. However, if you’ve seen anyone sleeping and seeing their eyes quickly moving from one side to the other, you know it’s weird to witness.
They think it might originate from the motor nerves of the brain. However, it is something that researchers are still trying to figure out. We know that this part of the REM sleep cycle is part of the process for our bodies to recharge batteries and feel refreshed when we wake up in the morning.
Sleeping might make you better at problem-solving.
Everyone has suffered from a mental block that doesn’t let you find a solution or work as well as you want it to. It’s frustrating and annoying knowing that you have the knowledge but can’t get yourself to find a way to work thru it. Here comes the almighty REM to help you get rid of that creative block. Science has found that when people wake up during the REM sleep cycle, they perform 32% better when solving anagrams and on creative tasks than those who wake up during other sleep cycles. They found that REM sleep has a connection with abstract reasoning and creating processes.
That connection with our creative side during this cycle can be the key to finding solutions. However, the bad news is that the effect won’t last long after you wake up. The other problem is that waking up so suddenly like that will also lead to excess grogginess, so it’s something that is not as effective as everyone want it to be.
If you wake up and your teeth and jaw are bothering, there’s a good chance it’s because you grind your teeth while you sleep. Bruxism is a condition where you unconsciously grind or clench your teeth in your sleep or even when awake, causing earaches, facial pain, and tenderness near the jaw.
Over time, this can also damage your teeth, jaw disorders, and other more serious conditions. Scientists are not sure of the causes of it. Nevertheless, they believe it’s linked with intense dreams, stress, anxiety, or tension. There is no treatment for it. If it gets too severe, it’s better to go to a dentist and see if they are any options to protect yourself from damaging your teeth.
Dreams can do all kinds of things when they’re intense. Everyone talks about men having “wet dreams,” but women have them too. When you’re dreaming, your brains sometimes don’t know what’s real and what’s not, and if you have a hot dream while in the REM cycle, chances are that you might have an orgasm from it.
When your brain is in REM sleep, your body needs more oxygen than it normally would. As a result, blood starts flowing all over, and it can cause swelling and arousal in both men and females, and it can also be very intense. So don’t be shy, dream of your favorite actor, and have fun.
Our brains work overtime to make us feel as good as we can be, and one of the things that having a good night’s sleep can do is improve our mental state. A neurotransmitter is the messengers between neurons in the brain, so when they are unbalanced, nothing works as planned. So, when you have a good amount of sleep, the neurotransmitters can stabilize and helps us feel alert and in good spirits.
This is why when there’s sleep deprivation. There are higher chances of having mental disorders like depression. It is a great idea to regulate our mind and keep it in good shape to sleep at least 8 hours every night. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and with great levels of dopamine.
Our body goes thru multiple processes while we fall asleep. In the middle of it all, sometimes, some things will start to show up, including itchiness. This itchiness can happen because of multiple reasons; one as simple as being a symptom of a possible dermatological disease or something more complex as a sleep disorder or parasomnia.
There is nocturnal pruritus, which can be mild or severe enough to wake you up and interrupt your sleep. This is caused by all the changes we go thru when we fall into sleep mode, including changes in body temperature, fluid balance, hormones, and circadian rhythm. There are a few remedies that you can use to help the itchiness, like over-the-counter medication, including antihistamines and steroid creams, to stop the itch source. If it gets too intense, it is best to consult a doctor for any other solutions.
While this is fairly rare, Catathrenia is very interesting but harmless. Nevertheless, doctors still consider it a sleep disorder. This one is just another sound that some people do during REM sleep or deep sleep, where the person groans when exhaling, and it can last as long as 30 seconds. Sometimes they are followed by a sigh or moan at the end, which can be silent or relatively loud. Various studies have found that when the patient is having a restless sleep with a lot of tossing and turning, this might interrupt the groaning.
Even if it sounds like something that may need to be looked at by a doctor, in most cases, this is harmless unless other worrisome symptoms appear. There’s no treatment for it. However, if it gets too loud for your partner, you can use a white noise machine or earplugs to block out the noise.
While it’s normal to twitch while sleeping, some people feel an odd feeling on their legs while they are lying in bed. This condition is called restless legs syndrome, and the best way to describe it is that you want to run a marathon instead of going to bed, which can affect feeling relaxed enough to fall asleep.
The causes of this sleep disorder might be linked to a lack of iron in your diet. However, it can happen if you have renal problems, a side effect of a medication, or use of alcohol, nicotine or caffeine, or pregnancy. Even though there is no cure for this condition, going for a walk can help alleviate the feeling, but it’s only temporary. There is also physical therapy, or you can take iron supplements. However, it’s better to go to a doctor to find the best solution to your case.
Two types of sleep cycles occur while we are sleeping, REM and Non-REM. Our brain will work hard in either of the processes, but REM sleep is when you’ll dream and have the most neurons working, compared with Non-REM sleep. More brain activity happens in this stage than when we are awake, so this is why if someone wakes us up when we are in REM sleep, some people experience vivid dreams.
We have talked about some intense dreams like vivid dreams or dreams that are too hot for T.V. But there is also the possibility of your brain giving you a rewatch of a dream. In fact, according to Psychology Today, over 60% of adults have recurrent dreams. It doesn’t mean that it’s a “prophecy” or that it’s a bad omen having the same dream over and over.
It might only mean that there’s an unresolved difficulty that needs checking. Have recurring dreams is also tied with anxiety and depression. Of course, not all cases are the same. Not all recurrent dreams have to be hostile or sad, either. Sometimes, it can be happy dreams that your brain wants to revisit.
There’s sleepwalking, sleep eating, and there’s sleep sex. Yes, this might sound a tad weird. Nevertheless, it happens; some people have sex while sleeping. Same as sleep eating and sleepwaking, it occurs because the brain is half awake and half asleep, and it might be reenacting their dreams, so the person is unaware of what is happening in real life.
If there is something that is waking the person up, like pain, noise, or the need to go to the bathroom, this might put the person in the middle of being half asleep, and some things like having sex might occur. It is also sexsomnia, and other symptoms include masturbating, sexual noises, and having sexual movements or aggression. People with this condition can be treated with medication or with the use of a CPAP machine.
Your body manages the glucose in your bloodstream.
The circadian rhythm is an essential part of our internal clock, managing our sleep-wake cycle, and when this cycle is in optimal condition, it is the one responsible for our bodies restoring themselves and releasing those chemicals that keep us resting like melatonin. Cortisol is a stress hormone. It helps your stress response but also plays a role in your immune response, conversion of norepinephrine to epinephrine, metabolism, proteins, blood pressure, and fats.
In doing so, it also increases the production of glucose from protein which helps keep our blood sugar levels in optimal condition. This is vital, especially when we are sleeping because our bodies are in a fasting state. So, cortisol increases glucose availability. Our body uses it for energy and repair. This is the reason why our cortisol levels are higher in the morning and gradually decrease throughout the day.
Sleeping also helps us control and balance hunger and satiety hormones called leptin and ghrelin. While leptin is the one in charge of suppressing appetite, ghrelin, on the other hand, is the one responsible for stimulating hunger. So, when we sleep, leptin levels increase, and ghrelin decreases, letting us enjoy our rest without feeling the munchies.
If we are having difficulty sleeping, it has been shown that the levels of ghrelin increase, thus making us hungry more often, and with more time being awake, it means that we are eating than we need during the day. Studies have shown that people that sleep less are more likely to be overweight or obese, which is often associated with diabetes and other health conditions.
Everyone has had nightmares that leave you all anxious and repeating in your head for most of the day, especially the scary ones that make you wake up in a sweat. Sometimes there’s no reason for them, but they happen more often due to low blood sugar. Dreams are considered a nightmare when they wake you up abruptly, so if it doesn’t, it is called just a bad dream.
These vivid and disturbing dreams happened during the REM sleep cycle. While having nightmares is normal in children and adults, some people suffer from a nightmare disorder in which the person has frequent nightmares that interfere with their sleep, mood, and daytime functioning. Having a consistent sleep schedule, reducing caffeine and alcohol, relaxing before bed, and reducing screen time before sleeping can help you have more pleasant dreams.
If you thought the film Inception was a bit out there, well, you might be mistaken. Like in the movie, we can have a dream within a dream. Also known as False Awakening, this happens during REM sleep when most of our dreams occur. It is very rare, and because of it, there’s not too much information about the phenomenon. But in it, the person can experience feeling like they are waking up to start their day or that they are waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
Even some people experience thinking about a dream they just had, believing they are awake. However, it’s all part of a false awakening. Another thing that makes false awakenings stand out from a normal dream is that they feel very realistic in situations that are too real to think it’s a dream.
Your body is a high working environment when we sleep, so it’s not surprising knowing that also your glands work overtime at night secreting hormones. While you sleep, the pineal gland releases melatonin which is an important hormone that helps us fall asleep and biorhythm control. While that’s going, your adrenal glands are reducing the production of cortisol until you wake up.
There is even an antidiuretic hormone produced that helps prevent accidents like wetting the bed at night. Even growth hormones are produced in kids while they sleep! Thinking that sleeping is a waste of time when in reality, it helps us be in optimal condition in the morning is lifesaving. Having a healthy sleep schedule is key for your glands to work normally and produce all the hormones we need.
Snoring is common for most people, and it can fluctuate from being low in volume to being extremely loud. So, what causes people to snore? The muscles in our airways relax, which makes the throat narrower, so when we breathe, the walls of our throats vibrate, creating a snoring sound. Thus, the narrower your throat becomes, the louder the snore is going to be.
Although it is not too problematic, it can be when the walls of your throat collapse completely, making it difficult to breathe while you sleep, known as sleep apnea. If you sometimes abruptly wake up because you can breathe well, it’s time to go to the doctor and check it out.
While some organs, like the brain, are working hard to help us rest and feel energetic when we wake up, other organs, like the heart, take the time to relax and slowdown from being so active all day long. Since there’s barely any movement while we rest, our cardiovascular system takes a breather, especially during NREM sleep.
Most human heart rates can go as low as 40 beats per minute when resting. But it all depends on the person and their condition. Athletes can go as slow as 30 beats per minute! What’s interesting is that your heart rate can go faster as if you’re awake when you go thru REM sleep since it’s the time with the highest brain activity during the night.
Some people experience brain zaps, which is when you feel a jolt of electricity in your head. Some people describe this strange sleeping condition as a “buzz in the head.” They say the sensation comes with flashes of light, nausea, throat tension, vertigo, or tinnitus.
These effects can be the cause of the discontinuation of a medication like an antidepressant when the body is going into withdrawal from a medicine that regulates the serotonin and GABA levels in the brain. As you can expect, brain zaps can be a problem, especially because they won’t let you have a good rest, so if the symptoms persist, it’s better to talk to a doctor to see what alternatives are out there to eliminate the brain jolts.
In the middle of all the work that happens when you rest, it’s the nervous system making changes that can affect your whole body in many ways. When we are sleeping, the sympathetic nervous system is relaxed enough to drop our blood pressure, breathing, and body temperature. Because of the latter, the temperature-regulating cells are shut down during REM sleep, which makes your body temperature lower than it has ever been.
When it’s time to wake up, the temperature rises enough that it helps you wake up in the morning. This is why it is recommended to sleep in a cool room so that it’s easier for your body and nervous system to let you know when it’s time to rest and then wake up. That is one of the reasons why it’s more challenging to fall asleep in warm places.
We have covered some odd things that we do while we sleep, like sleepwalking, sleep eating, and sleep sex. However, this one is a more recent problem that might affect the new generation. If you ever found texts you have sent but can’t remember, you might have a late-night sleep texting session.
A research study from Villanova University found that at least one-third of students found texts they did while asleep. Like most of these sleep conditions, they happen while in REM sleep. The cause of this might be, sleep deprivation, stress, sedative medications, or alcohol. There is at least one simple solution for this one not to happen: Shut off your phone or hide it in a place where it’s not easily accessible when you sleep.
Sleep paralysis is considered one of the scariest things anyone can experience while sleeping. If you have ever had a nightmare so intense that you feel like your body can’t move or do anything, that is what sleep paralysis is. Your brain will be conscious enough to know you’re still sleeping, but somehow when you try to get out of bed, your body won’t move, creating a bit of panic and anxiety trying to get out of that state.
Some patients say that they can see shadow people, demons, or ghosts standing in their chests, holding them down. But it’s all a hallucination caused by the amygdala being too active at that moment. Only 8% of the population has experienced sleep paralysis, which is very scary.
We are not talking about your head exploding like in the movies. Exploding brain syndrome is more complicated than that. People suffering from it can hear loud noises when going to sleep or when they wake up. They describe it as a crash, explosion, or even a sunshot that feels like it happens right beside them. They only last less than a second, and it’s painless and doesn’t cause any danger.
Some people would stop having any episodes over time, and there is no need for any treatment at the moment unless it’s accompanied by any other symptom that needs to be observed. So far, there is little known of its cause, and even though science has known of the syndrome since the late 1800s, not a lot of research has been done.
It’s so interesting knowing all the things that change while we sleep that we never knew about until now. For example, did you know that we can barely smell while we sleep? What’s interesting about the sense of smell is that other senses are always in the conversation regarding sleep (like sound and sight, which can cause one to wake up from it). Your sense of smell won’t wake you up at all, and it’s something that can be worrisome in case of a fire or gas leak.
But smells like aromatherapy can be a great help when we want to relax and fall asleep. Some smells help the circadian rhythm regulate itself so you can fall asleep. Fragrances can have psychological and physiological responses that can become part of emotional memory, so if you have a pleasant scent in your bedroom, this might trigger a pleasant memory that can help you get a satisfying sleep faster.
If you are one of those people that wakes up with a stuffy nose, teary eyes and sneezing in the mornings, we feel your pain. Allergies can disturb our sleep and make a hassle when trying to get a good rest. About 30% of Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis and are more than likely to suffer from insomnia.
Some allergens can get into your nasal cavity while you sleep, causing a trigger in the system, and depending on the person, it can even wake you up from it. You can do some things to improve your sleep and not have an allergic episode. Using an air purifier is a great way to keep your air clean and dust free; Closing doors and windows, cleaning your room often to get rid of any dust on furniture and keeping your pets out of your space.
Having nocturnal panic attacks can be a big problem when it comes to having a good night’s sleep, and they sometimes happen with no apparent trigger. Same as daytime panic attacks, patients get heavy sweating, hyperventilation, racing heartbeat, trembling, chills, and more. There are no known causes of panic attacks. However, it can be due to genetics, thyroid problem, stress, or changes in your brain.
As with any mental health condition, getting cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, or both, can help prevent these episodes from happening. If they do, the intensity of it will be less than before. The best way to find what’s right for you is to consult your doctor for the best options for you.
Having to work at night has its pros and cons. However, when it comes to your health, this might be a problem with your circadian rhythm. It can cause a sleep disorder known as the shift work disorder. This condition affects people that work at night, early morning, and rotating shifts. It may cause insomnia or sleepiness throughout their waking time.
Since your body can’t get in sync with your circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle, so it will start releasing hormones like melatonin when it perceives low light. The good news is that your body can get used to the schedule after a while, and the symptoms might fade away. It might take time, but soon, you’ll become a night owl, and your circadian rhythm will again find its groove.
If you take long-distance flights often or work for an airline, you know all too well about jetlag. The thing about traveling is the process of getting there; from checking in, running with your luggage to get to your gate, security lines, and hours of sitting inside a plane can be stressful and might take a hit on your sleep schedule.
When your internal clock gets misaligned with the local time at your destination, especially if it’s a different time zone, it can bring symptoms like sleepiness, impaired thinking, stomach problems, emotional difficulty, and even sleep paralysis. Thankfully, the symptoms will fade away when your body adapts to the new time and scenery. It might take a few days for your brain to realize that jetlag needs to go and vacation mode needs to be activated.
Same as our bodies need a shower to make us feel clean, our sleep schedule needs one too. And what better way to improve your productivity, mental health, and quality of life than having good habits and behaviors to make things better for you? Having routines promoting good sleep will have long-term consequences in everything else you do.
There are a few ways to achieve that: Having a sleep schedule, with a scheduled bedtime and wake time, by setting up alarms. Setting a consistent nightly routine that includes unplugging from electronics, dimming your light, and having 30 minutes to wind down before lying in bed might make the difference.
Our body has two key drivers to regulate our sleep: circadian alerting and the sleep-wake homeostasis system. Sleep-wake homeostasis is the one that manages how long we need to be awake and when to feel the need to sleep, depending on experience. This self-regulating system follows how long you’ve been awake to know how long you will need to sleep to recuperate.
It is unclear how it determines how much we need to sleep. However, during the day, neurons in our brain will activate that sensitivity with sleep loss. This system is also the one that will set up to sleep longer and deeply when there are periods of very little rest.