10 crazy facts about sleep that you should know

Sleep — it seems like the most natural and mundane of human activities, but it’s also one of the most fascinating. From why we sleep to how we dream, to what keeps us awake and the trends that have defined sleep over the centuries, there’s a lot we’ve learned about sleep … and a lot left to learn about it, too. With that in mind, here are some unusual facts about sleep that you probably didn’t know. 

Humans are the only mammals that deliberately stay awake.

If you have ever said “just one more episode” and found yourself still awake several hours later, that’’s a uniquely human experience. All other animals will sleep whenever necessary, wherever they are. Humans, on the other hand, often delay sleep for any number of reasons, and will only sleep in designated spots. 

You can go longer without food than sleep. 

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, after seven days without food, most humans are likely to be hungry and weak, but physically fine. Seven days without sleep, on the other hand, will take a significant toll on your physical and mental well-being. Even a small amount of sleep deprivation can affect your cognitive abilities and physical health, so going without sleep for days on end can do serious damage to your body. In fact, sleep deprivation is so detrimental that Amnesty International classifies it as a form of torture, and the longest recorded period without sleep is 11 days. 

The blind dream differently. 

Whenever you remember your dreams, it’s likely they feature vivid, often strange visuals. However, people who are born blind have no visual reference points, so their dreams are based more on emotions and their other senses, especially sound and smell. Those who experience blindness later in life may have some vision in their dreams, but it depends largely on when they went blind. Hearing impairments can also influence dreams — deaf individuals report using sign language in their dreams. 

Dreams haven’t always been in color. 

Although 12 percent of people only dream in black and white on a regular basis, the majority of people dream in color. In fact 75 percent of people dream in color every night. What’s even more interesting, though, is that before the invention of color television, only about 15 percent of people dreamed in color. 

The moon influences your sleep. 

If you think things are unusual during a full moon, you aren’t wrong. Research shows that people get less restful sleep during a full moon (and sleep better during new moon phases), but scientists aren’t sure why. 

Sleeping all night is a fairly modern phenomenon.

Most of us try to get an uninterrupted night of sleep every night and sleep through until morning. This has only been the norm since the 18th century, though. Before that, people would split their sleep each night into two segments, getting up in the early morning hours to spend a few hours in prayer, reading, or socializing before heading back to bed. 

Falling asleep quickly isn’t always a good thing. 

No one likes tossing and turning and struggling to fall asleep, but sleep statistics indicate it’s actually normal for it to take 10-15 minutes to fall asleep. Falling asleep more quickly, especially if it takes five minutes or less, is a sign that you are sleep deprived. Falling asleep too quickly can also increase the likelihood of hypnic jerks, the involuntary muscle movements that can startle you awake as you’re starting to fall asleep. Although these common contractions aren’t a sign of an underlying health condition, they can disturb your sleep and indicate that you aren’t getting enough rest. 

Somniphobia is a fear of sleep. 

Some people don’t get enough sleep because they have a debilitating fear of sleeping known as somniphobia. Sometimes brought on by sleep disorders such as nightmare or sleep paralysis, somniphobia is a serious condition that causes distress at the mere thought of going to sleep. Most people aren’t afraid of sleep itself, and actually want to sleep, but are afraid of what will happen while they are asleep. The condition can be treated with different forms of therapy or medication. 

Regular flights can disrupt sleep.

Are you a jetsetter — or just fly regularly for work? If so, the more time you spend on an airplane, the more likely you are to experience sleep disruption. However, it’s not just jet lag that keeps you awake. Rather, flying at high altitudes reduces oxygen, which in turn contributes to sleep deprivation. 

The healthiest sleep position is the least popular. 

Although the majority of people prefer to sleep on their side, the healthiest sleep position is sleeping on your back — which only about 8 percent of people prefer. Sleeping on your back helps reduce back pain by supporting the proper alignment of the neck and spine and proper weight distribution. As a bonus, sleeping on your back can help prevent wrinkles. 

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