25 Unknown Facts about Sleep

Ross Quade | Health | 12 Jun, 2013 | No Comments

In our frantically paced world where most adults are expected to be “on” and accessible around the clock, sleep has become more of a luxury, a desired commodity rather than the necessary resting period we need for our bodies to function optimally. We joke about not getting enough sleep, and have actually come to a period in time when sleep deprivation is seen to be a normal state for the majority of people.

Ideally, humans use the time the body is at rest while sleeping to review the events of the day and organize thoughts into information that can be stored away and used later. We also use sleep to help our bodies regulate various functions to keep our biological processes operating to the maximum capacities. Our bodies sleep to restore energy and knowledge, to begin living again the next day.

Even though we understand that we must sleep at some point, and generally strive to get enough sleep, there are still things even the most renowned scientists do not know about sleep. Here are 25 things about sleep most people don’t know:

1.      We spend around a third of our lives sleeping

The average human lives to be just over 74 years old, and of that age, 25 years are spent sleeping. This is based on the person getting the recommended amount of sleep each night. The large amount of our lifetimes represented by this activity should indicate the importance sleep plays to our ability to achieve longevity.

2.      40 million people in the United States have a sleeping disorder

Over 65% of Americans indicate they have difficulty sleeping on most nights. Of these, a large number has a documented sleeping disorder. Many of these sufferers have no idea they have a sleeping disorder because they don’t know the symptoms, and will largely remain untreated.

3.      The human body is made to sleep better in cooler temperatures

The human body lowers in temperature to initiate the sleep cycle. If it is too hot in the surrounding area, it may be difficult for a person to fall asleep. This is one reason why summer and hot sleeping conditions bring about more bouts with insomnia and restless sleeping.

4.      Too little sleep can contribute to obesity

Neglecting to get enough sleep can lead to a person gaining weight and having difficulty in losing it. Recent studies have shown that the longer we’re awake, the less our body produced two necessary hunger controlling hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Without these, we can find ourselves eating more carbohydrates, while staying up later, which could result in weight gain.

Also, if you’re too tired from a loss of sleep to get physically active, you will gain weight because you aren’t burning off the calories you consume.

5.      Sleep deprivation has comparable effects to intoxication

Studies have shown that foregoing sleep for over 16 hours can have the same effects on the human body as having had alcoholic drinks, resulting in the same symptoms as seen in a person with an alcohol blood content level of approximately .05%. The dangers of drinking and driving are the same with those who drive while sleepy.

6.      New parents can lose over 700 hours of sleep within baby’s first year

Anyone who has ever had a new baby in the house has seen firsthand how much sleep parents can lose while taking care of a newborn. Because babies need close attention and care in the first year of their lives, parents will find they are short on sleep as they awaken around the clock to tend to those needs.

Besides the up and down nature of caring for a new baby, having an infant can contribute to increased stress levels in new parents, who may remain awake in anxiety over issues such as finances and the responsibilities of being responsible for a young human.

7.      Sleep deprivation is the cause in one out of six car accidents

Drivers who do not get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle are responsible for 20% of the car accidents that occur in this country. Sleep deprivation can cause a marked decrease in reaction times and in decision making capabilities.

The impact on our capabilities to make sound judgments can result in disastrous effects more far reaching than car accidents. When we are deprived of sleep, we can also exhibit more risk taking attributes, which can result in making critical financial decisions that we would not normally make.

8.      Lack of sleep can suppress immune system

Without the restorative components of adequate sleep, our immune systems do not function at the maximum capacity. We are more likely to catch colds and suffer infections. Fevers are the way we fight infections and this combat occurs most effectively during sleep.

9.      Not enough sleep can cause premature aging

Adequate sleep might not exactly be the fountain of youth some of us are seeking, but it can definitely help stall the inevitable. When we do not get enough sleep, our bodies produce the hormone cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Cortisol breaks down the collagen in skin and the less collagen we have the less flexible our skin is and it becomes more prone to wrinkles. Collagen makes our skin smooth and firm.

Also, it is while in sleep that humans produce the growth hormone that helps us to grow during childhood, but in adulthood assists with strengthening our bones and increasing our muscle mass. Without this growth hormone, adults will appear less firm in body tone, contributing to an advanced age appearance. Our tissues cannot heal properly without adequate sleep, and the resulting injuries and prolonged rehabilitation can mimic that found in older people.

And let’s face it, not getting enough sleep also promotes swollen, dark, bruise-like bags under the eyes and bloodshot eyes, which can also make us appear older than we are.

10.  Partners of snorers lose an hour of sleep each day

If you have a partner that snores, it won’t surprise you that you’re likely awakened throughout every night upwards of 20 times by the noise. These sleep interruptions can translate into an average loss of an hour of sleep per day. You will also sleep more lightly because of the frequent interruptions, and likely will have difficulty maintaining deep sleep statuses that provide the most restorative benefits to the human body.

Your partner is also getting less quality sleep, because they are waking themselves up and preventing their bodies from succumbing to deep sleep. People who snore are at a higher risk of certain health issues, such as sleep apnea, where they may stop breathing while sleeping. Sleep apnea can lead to heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

11.  Sleep deprivation impacts job performance

The same symptoms that mark intoxication—loss of decision making capabilities, unsteadiness, loss of control—also make working while deprived of sleep dangerous. For people who work in such professions as health care and heavy machine operation, the mistakes that can be made because of a lack of sleep can be fatal.

Workers who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to become sick and miss work due to illness on a more frequent basis than those who get adequate rest. If employees are sleeping on their jobs, even for a few minutes, there is a reduction in productivity.

The lack of sleep by key players in the workplace has been partially to blame for several of the largest disasters in our modern history, including the nuclear reactor failure at Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez occurrence, and the crashing of the Challenger space shuttle.

12.  Counting sheep doesn’t help most people fall asleep

Despite the old wives tale of counting sheep being a definite cure for insomnia, studies have found that the act likely does not involve enough concentration to be truly effective. People who cannot sleep and attempt to count sheep still might prone to intruding stress and thoughts that make them anxious and prolong their inability to fall asleep.

Performing a more detailed task, such as counting backwards by an uncommon number, may be more effective. If none of the counting exercises work, experts suggest that you simply get out of bed if you do not feel tired enough to fall asleep within a certain amount of time. Engaging in a non-stimulating activity can help reduce the stress caused by the anxiety you may feel at not being able to sleep.

Another way to combat insomnia effectively is to practice relaxation techniques and creating a bedtime ritual. Many adults resort to using sleeping pills to get to sleep every night, and while this can be an effective short term solution to help catch up on sleep, medications should not be used long term because they can promote dependence on them and cause other health issues as the side effects.

13.  Less sleep contributes to diabetes and heart issues

Not getting enough sleep can result in the body’s fat cells not being receptive to insulin, which helps to regulate the blood sugar. Diabetes is the condition that results when the body cannot properly use insulin to convert glucose to energy to fuel the body.

Sleep deprivation can also affect the ability of the blood vessels to function properly. If these vital throughways do not dilate the way they should and promote healthy blood flow to and from the heart, adequate blood will not travel to promote a healthy cardiovascular system.

Sleep apnea, which is a sleeping disorder caused by breaks in the breathing pattern, also occur in people who are at a higher risk of heart disease.

14.  Sleep deprivation impacts memory and attention span

Experts have discovered that while humans sleep, there is organization and processing of new information going on inside the brain. The events of the day are stored away and the state of sleep allows these events to be stored as memories. Knowledge is based on memorized information. If sleep does not occur, this storing process does not take place, and details are more likely to be forgotten.

Someone who is sleep deprived may also have a difficult time paying attention to tasks and concentrating on learning new information. Studies have shown that students who get adequate rest before a test perform better than those who pull all night study sessions in efforts to cram for the exams.

15.  Not getting enough sleep is a major symptom in mental health disorders

Fatigue marks many psychiatric disorders and can contribute to depression, hallucinations, and paranoia. Going without adequate sleep for prolonged periods of time can also cause anxiety and stress. In the short run, being short on sleep can cause mood swings and irritability.

Some studies have indicated that because many psychiatric disorders include sleeping issues, it is possible that being deprived of sleep can contribute to these issues. The portion of the brain that regulates the emotions is severely affected by a lack of sleep and once this area begins to malfunction, some symptoms of mental disorders can begin to surface.

16.  Longest recorded time without sleep is right under 19 days

The winner of a rocking marathon stayed awake for a recorded time of 18 days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes in order to take the title. The record holder reported symptoms of extreme sleep deprivation during this time, including hallucinations, inability to concentrate, and slurred speech.

17.  Too little sleep might mean too little sex

Sleep deprivation has a marked effect on the human libido, causing a decrease in our desire to have sex. If we are too tired, we are unable to become aroused as easily, in order to engage in sexual activity. The production and function of sex hormones is directly affected by getting too little sleep.

18.  Sleep less and feel hungry more

The longer you’re awake, the more likely you are to crave food because your body does not produce enough of the hormone that regulates appetite. You could suffer from an increase in your appetite of 25%, which translates into hundreds of extra calories and several extra pounds over the course of weeks without adequate sleep.

19.  Humans can live longer without food than sleep

It will take the average human being two weeks to die from lack of food, however, he or she could die within ten days without any sleep.

20.  We can only dream about faces we’ve seen before

The faces of people we see in our dreams may not be familiar to our conscious minds, but they have roots in our subconscious mind having made the informal introductions sometime during our lives. We cannot create new faces from no information, but our brains can retain the information from quick glances or other encounters with people.

21.  You should wake up sleepwalking people

Superstitions tell us it is dangerous to awaken someone who is sleepwalking. These tales likely began with our ancestors, who did not understand the exact nature of sleep and the qualities of the dream states. They believed that the soul of a person who was sleeping was travelling outside the body to the places they dreamed about. As a result, they also thought that to awaken the person while they were sleeping would result in their soul not being able to return to the body and it would wander aimlessly while the body died.

Modern science has proven this misplaced caution to be false. A person who is sleepwalking can engage in dangerous behaviors and activities, such as leaving the safety of the house and walking into active traffic, or cooking meals and setting the house on fire that may make waking them essential to the safety and well being of them and those around them.

22.  Humans could sleep for 25 hours straight without waking stimulus

Studies performed on people who reside in facilities where there is no stimulation to cause them to wake up have shown that humans can sleep for up to 25 hours straight. The reason so many of us wake up is because there are noises and presences that cause us to break our sleep.

Sometimes, the things that cause us to awaken are purposeful, like alarm clocks we set. Other stimulus is accidental, or the cause of others, like spouses moving in the bed or small children seeking breakfast. We can also cause ourselves to awaken due to the anxiety over having to get up to attend to daily life tasks.

23.  We spend 6 years of our lives in dreams

While we sleep, we have two states, the non-rapid eye movement sleep and rapid eye movement sleep. NREM sleep can produce dreams that are not very detailed, yet dreams, nonetheless. More detailed dreams are produced during REM sleep. Because we spend approximately a third of our lives asleep, 6 years of that time is spent dreaming.

24.  The body’s sleep clock can be reset

Scientists found that shining bright light on the back of someone’s knees can cause the body to change the clock that governs our sleep and wake cycles, though they are unsure as to why that is. Also, research during wartime led to the development of special glasses that shone a light similar to sunlight into soldiers’ eyes and helped the soldiers to remain awake for 36 hours at a time, to increase battle effectiveness and alertness.

25.  Stress is what operates the natural alarm clock in some people

When someone can awaken whenever they want to, they likely are doing so due to a stress hormone that is produced from their anxiety over having to awaken at a certain time.

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