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28 Facts About Sleep That Will Fuck You Up

Sleep sex and sleep texting are actual things, so now I'm probably never going to sleep again.

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Sleep is equal parts fascinating and weird AF, and even though we do it every day, there's still SO much to be learned about it.

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So to better understand more about the ins and outs of everything sleep-related, BuzzFeed Health spoke with Dr. Alcibiades Rodriguez, medical director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center–Sleep Center at New York University Langone Medical Center, Dr. Amy Atkeson, assistant professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, and Dr. Bhanuprakash Kolla, neurologist and psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine.

Alright, here's all the fascinating things they had to say!

1. Humans legit sleep for around one-third of their lives.

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It makes sense that most people sleep for a third of their lives if you go by the "eight hours of sleep per night" model that a majority of people try to follow, Rodriguez says.

2. You actually can't train yourself to need less sleep.

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"The belief that you can train yourself to get by on fewer hours of sleep is not true," Atkeson says. "You need the sleep you were genetically predisposed to needing (usually seven to nine hours), and can't train yourself to fully function on less."

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3. The belief that you can ~catch up~ on sleep is false.

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According to Rodriguez, whatever you've lost, you've lost, and the only way to feel like you're not tired all the time is to get back on your usual schedule. So instead of trying to get 12 to 15 hours of sleep in one night in hopes of making up for lost time, stick to seven to nine hours of sleep, and be consistent with it.

"Every seriously sleep-deprived person I’ve met is falling asleep in movies, feeling irritable, or drinking like six cups of coffee during the day," Atkeson says. "There’s no substitute for sleep."

4. Despite what some people may report, humans get better sleep when they sleep solo.

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"If you look at total sleep time, restfulness, uninterrupted sleep time, etc., it’s apparent that people sleep better when they’re alone," Atkeson says. "People may self-report that they sleep better when their husband/wife is around, and while they may feel that way, you objectively always sleep better alone; people who have the space or can afford to get a California King-sized bed obviously being the exception to the rule."

She says this is due to a variety or reasons, such as partners being on different sleep schedules, snoring, being an overactive sleeper (karate chops during the night don't help), and having nightmares — all of which can be really disruptive. If this is something you experience, Atkeson recommends buying earplugs or eyeshades to help.

5. Sometimes people wake up in the middle of the night to find that they can't move their body.

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"This is normal, especially when people are sleep-deprived," Kallo says. "Your brain is awake but your body is still in the paralysis of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and sometimes people can wake up in the middle of that, which can be incredibly frightening."

REM is the stage of sleep where most of people's dreaming occurs, and Atkeson says sleep doctors theorize that sleep paralysis is probably a protective process the body has developed so that most of the skeletal muscles involved with movement are paralyzed so we can't move when we dream.

Here's more info on that.

6. The opposite is REM sleep behavior disorder, which is when people act out their dreams in their sleep with no recollection of doing so the next morning.

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Some people don’t have their muscles paralyzed during sleep and that is what REM sleep behavior disorder is, Atkeson explains. So when these people dream and they’re in a fight with someone, they can actually swing their arms around and kick, even though they're totally asleep.

This can get dangerous because people with REM sleep behavior disorder can give their bed partners a black eye, throw themselves out of bed and get a bang or cut their head, or even worse, jump out of a second story window, she says.

"We’ll be in the sleep lab and a patient will just sit up and start screaming about what’s happening in their dreams," Atkeson explains, "No one acts out a happy dream. It’s usually stress-related, or they're fighting and trying to escape from someone."

7. The amount of deep sleep you get usually starts dropping around 40 years old, and will have disappeared altogether by the time you're 80 to 90 years old.

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Kolla says non-REM sleep is a type of sleep where electroencephalogram (EEG) charts show slower brain waves, slower and more regular breathing and heart rate, low blood pressure, little-to-no eye movement, and decreased muscle activity. It has three different stages: N1, N2, and N3 — N1 being the lightest and N3 being the deepest.

According to him, we experience the most N3 sleep when we're younger — which is why it can feel impossible to wake kids up in the middle of the night, and why some kids really struggle with bed-wetting — and start to lose the ability to fall into deeper sleep as we get older. Why? No one is sure, but that's something we're definitely NOT looking forward to.

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8. MRI and PET scans show that some parts of your brain are more active during REM sleep than when you're awake.

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The most active parts of the brain are areas like the thalamus — involved in relaying sensory information to the cerebral cortex — and the amygdala — involved in processing emotions, which Rodriguez says has led sleep specialists to theorize that during REM sleep, our brain is trying to filter through all that information in our heads (by dreaming) and get rid of some.

"We think this is important for memory consolidation and brain housekeeping — storing up neuronal connections you made throughout the day, and maybe pruning the ones that haven’t been used in a while," Atkeson says.

9. There is such thing as sleep sex and sleep-texting and they're both forms of non-REM parasomnias.

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Both texting and having sex in your sleep are subcategories of non-REM parasomnias — meaning abnormal nighttime behavior — like sleepwalking, confusion arousal, and night terrors, Atkeson says. And in both cases, the person with the parasomnia has no recollection whatsoever of engaging in a text conversation or trying to have sex with someone.

10. You can sleep the entire night with your eyes open and feel perfectly rested the next morning.

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Rodriguez says that many people sleep with their eyes open — some consistently and some only every now and then — and although they're not sure why it happens, it's perfectly normal and not an indicator of a larger sleep disorder.

11. New Jersey has a law that prohibits drowsy driving due to insufficient sleep, called “Maggie's Law.”

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"Falling asleep at the wheel is a big public concern and insufficient sleep is strongly tied to that," Atkeson says. "When people don’t get enough sleep their neurocognitive functions are thrown off, creating problems with memory, attention, concentration, etc., which are all important for driving safely."

"Studies have shown that some people who get less sleep are also unaware of their lower job performance," she says. "So not only are you doing worse but you’re not realizing that you’re doing worse and your self-perception is way off."

12. Partly because most times when people don't get enough sleep, they end up falling into microsleep without even knowing it.

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Ever tried to do a task while extremely tired and all of a sudden found yourself asleep or nodding off? Atkeson says that's called a "microsleep," which is when a person temporarily loses consciousness and external stimuli aren't being perceived.

You're especially prone to microsleep or attentional drift (having a really hard time concentrating and focusing) when you've been sleep-deprived for multiple days. It's your body's way of trying to get you the rest that you need, she says.

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13. On average, people can lose up to an hour of sleep per night if they go to bed with their phone in the room.

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"Take your phone out of your room and certainly out of your kids' rooms," Atkeson says. "If you keep your phone in your room, you can miss out on up to an hour of sleep, relative to people who don’t sleep with their phone in their rooms."

14. There are people who actually have "somniphobia," which means they're afraid of sleep.

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Rodriguez says people, more commonly younger people, who are still getting used to the routine of sleep, develop somniphobia for a variety of reasons ranging from reoccurring nightmares, to terrible insomnia, to feeling like they're going to die every time you close your eyes.

15. That intense feeling of falling right as you've gone to sleep is called a hypnic jerk, and no one knows exactly why they happen.

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Hypnic jerks happen when people try to fall asleep but are still half-awake, Rodriguez says. "Although nobody really knows why they happen, they're completely normal and not a symptom of a sleep disorder," he says. "Babies tend to experience a lot of hypnic jerks, but it gets better with age."

It's also theorized that hypnic jerks happen when you're not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, or your quality of sleep is being affected by things like stress, caffeine, or sleep disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia, he says.

Here's some more cool info on that.

16. Around 0.5 to 1.5% of the population is made up of naturally short sleepers, meaning they only need four to five hours of sleep to feel rested.

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There’s a tiny segment of the population that can get very little sleep and not feel tired, Atkeson explains.

"They'll ace the driving simulator and all of the cognitive testing after only four to five hours of sleep and feel awesome," she says. "Like around 95% of people, I need my seven to eight hours of asleep or I feel really miserable the next day, whereas some people just need a 15-minute power nap and they're ready to go again."

17. And 2 to 3% of the population are naturally long sleepers, meaning they need 10 hours of sleep or more to feel rested.

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According to Atkeson, it's not a disease or a disorder, it's just the amount of sleep that these people need. If they do get those hours in, then they’re totally fine. But if they don't, then they're irritable, have a hard time concentrating, exhibit lower job performance, and are in the habit of taking frequent long naps.

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18. It's harder to sleep when you're at a higher altitude.

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As you go up in altitude there’s a decrease in oxygen, and that makes it harder to sleep well, which is called central sleep apnea due to high altitude, Rodriguez says.

"As the lack of oxygen gets worse you stop breathing, which usually starts happening around 2,500 meters up," he explains. "Most people should adjust to new altitudes in approximately two to three weeks though."

19. It's possible to stop breathing for multiple minutes while you're asleep, and not even know it.

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Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder — one of the most common — in which you have very shallow breaths or your breathing suddenly stops and starts while you're asleep, explains Kolla.

"The breathing pauses can range from a few seconds to multiple minutes and can occur up to 30 times or more per hour," he says. "After the pause, normal breathing will start up again, usually with a loud snort or choking sound, which happens after your brain realizes you need oxygen. Most people don't realize this is even a problem until a partner, family member, or friend has told them."

Here's more info on that.

20. There are a ton of things that could be contributing to how much you snore, such as sleeping on your back, menopause, and having ~soft~ neck tissue.

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Snoring (not to be confused with sleep apnea) is the sound that's created when the tissues in your throat relax enough to the point that they partially block the airway and vibrate every time you breathe in and out. And according to Rodriguez, things that make your airway (the trachea) narrower, like sleeping on your back, only make the airway narrower and increase your likelihood of snoring noisily.

Other factors that minimize your airway and make you more likely to snore are having tonsils, going to bed extremely tired, drinking alcohol, and taking muscle relaxers or sleeping pills. You can also be genetically predisposed to snoring, like by being born with a small airway, having softer neck tissue, or being prone to gaining weight in your neck area. After menopause, women also tend to lose collagen in their skin, decreasing the elasticity in their neck and making snoring worse, which is why some women develop sleep apnea after losing high numbers of estrogen.

Sometimes, the walls of the throat collapse completely so that the airway is completely blocked, and that's the difference between snoring and sleep apnea.

21. Sleep apnea was first cured by a machine that was made from a vacuum cleaner.

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The first machine used to treat this disorder was created in June 1980 by Collin Sullivan, PhD, who took the engine and plastic tubes of a vacuum cleaner and reversed the airflow so that the machine was pushing air out instead of sucking it in. This would eventually become the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine that sleep apnea patients use today.

Kolla says this was revolutionary because sleep apnea often causes you to move out of deep sleep and into light sleep, resulting in poor sleep quality for both you and anyone you're sleeping with, making you both excessively tired during the day, potentially leading to other health problems.

Vacuum cleaners: 1, Sleep apnea: 0.

22. There are such things as cooling pillows and cooling helmets to help insomniacs get to sleep.

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"Your body temperature is supposed to lower four to six hours before sleep to signal that it's time for bed because it's your brain's way of signaling to your body that it’s time to get shuteye," Atkeson says. "There are things like cooling helmets and pillows that were created to help promote a decline in body temperature so that people with insomnia can fall asleep easier, and the've actually had positive results in tests."

She says that's why it’s recommended that you work out four to six hours before trying to go to sleep, because then your body temperature will decrease naturally (from coming down after getting your heart rate up during exercise) mimicking the signal that it’s time for bed.

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23. The National Sleep Foundation recommends sleeping in a climate of 65 to 67 degrees for optimal rest.

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Atkeson says it’s easier for people's bodies to sleep in cooler temps than hotter temps (it's easy to put a blanket on, guys) and that access to air conditioning in general improves sleep quality.

24. The reason you want a nap or cup of coffee at the same time every day is because our bodies naturally feel tired between 2 to 6 a.m., with a second peak between 2 to 6 p.m.

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Kolla says there are two main things that drive our sleep cycle: one is called homeostasis — the balance between how much you're awake and how much you need to sleep to account for that  — and the second is called the circadian rhythm, which is the schedule in which our physical, mental, and behavioral changes ebb and flow throughout the day.

"Human beings have a sleep-wake cycle so that there is a drive to fall asleep easier," Rodriguez says. "The highest drive to fall asleep is between 2 to 6 a.m. with a second peak between 2 to 6 p.m., so it’s normal to feel tired and a little bit sleepy at that time, and if you're not sleeping well or you have a sleep disorder then it’s definitely worse."

He says that if you have a “normal” circadian rhythm and you’re going to bed sometime around 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m., then there’s a circadian trigger that will make you feel sleepy around 9 a.m., and then progressively start to feel more alert throughout the morning, so that by late morning you’re actually very alert. Then you'll dip again in the afternoon and get a second wind (feel energized) sometime in the late afternoon or early evening.

25. Light is the strongest environmental factor that decides when you wake up and go to sleep.

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A zeitgeber — which means "time giver" in German — is an environmental cue, like a natural alarm that resets the body's internal clock, letting you know when to wake up, go to sleep, eat your meals, etc. "That's why you have a hard time sleeping in when the sun has risen and your room is bright," Atkeson says. "There are other zeitgebers like coffee and exercise, but they aren’t nearly as powerful as light."

That's why it feels like you could sleep in forever when you're in a room with heavy shades — there's no light telling your body that it's time to get up. Light is so powerful in getting our body on a routine that Atkeson says some blind people try strict scheduling, melatonin, or specific medications to try and stay on a routine schedule.

26. The ultimate nap length is 20 to 30 minutes — nothing more.

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When it comes to napping for improved performance or short-term alertness, Atkeson says that most data suggests 20–30 minutes at a time is best.

The idea being that if you sleep for longer than that, you’re more likely to go into deep slow-wave sleep, and waking up from that could leave you with a lot of sleep inertia (aka grogginess), she explains. The other issue is that if you’re napping long throughout the day, you’ll be less likely to get good quality sleep at night when it's on your regular schedule.

27. Up to 50% of patients with depression develop insomnia.

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Insomnia is having an incredibly hard time falling or staying asleep and still waking up early as well. Rodriguez says insomnia is multifactorial — it could be a disorder itself or a symptom of something else.

"A lot of people are genetically predisposed to insomnia, but people with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism are most likely to experience it. We also know patients with dementia tend to have a really hard time sleeping well too."

28. In other countries napping is a cultural custom and in some considered a constitutional right (brb, moving there real quick).

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"In really hot countries, there is a well-accepted custom of napping during hot days, or taking a siesta," Atkeson says. "It’s the hottest period of the day and it’s also where you have a circadian ebb, so you’re very sleepy at that time during the day."

In Spain and some South American countries, you're not even supposed to go into businesses between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. because that’s nap time, she explains. In China, employees will take between a 30-minute and hour-long power nap at lunch, which is completely normal and expected by businesses.

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