Have you ever awoken from a dream with the feeling of being paralyzed? Maybe you’ve found yourself in a different room than the one you fell asleep in? It’s the middle of the night, and you have no idea how you got there. While being scary enough, these phenomena are perfectly natural and happen to millions of people every night.
In fact, there’s a whole catalog of weird and wonderful things that take place while you’re fast asleep and circling through dream states beneath your comforter. But what’s happening to your mind and body while catching some Zs, and should we be concerned? Today we’ll take a closer look at the neural and biological occurrences taking place while the lights are out, in this episode of The Infographics Show – Things that Happen When You’re Asleep.
Lie down, turn off the lights, and let nature do the rest. Depending on the day you’ve had, you may fall asleep straight away, or it may take a little while. When you first drift off, the sleep is light, non-rapid eye movement sleep, and progresses deeper and deeper into NREM2, before moving on to the deepest NREM3, before finally moving into REM sleep. The rapid eye movement part of sleep is where most of the dreams occur. The brain then moves back through the cycle in the same order four or five times during an ordinary night’s sleep. As the night progresses, you spend more time in the REM zones and this explains why you often wake up during a dream.
Ever woke up feeling paralyzed? Well, during REM sleep, only the muscles that move our eyes are active. Dream paralysis has been experienced by us humans for years, and before we studied dreams as a science, we thought supernatural phenomena was at play. This event was often called The Hag, as our ancestors believed a witch-like woman sat atop our chests restricting our movements. Sleep paralysis, instead, is a temporary state occurring in transition between REM sleep and wakefulness. Often the sufferer of this disturbing condition can make no major body movements or speak, but they can open their eyes so that they are aware of their surroundings. Owing to the advent of REM dream-sleep, often this event is accompanied by hallucinations and can be terrifying.
During our nightly escapades to the land of nod, our brains clear out the trash. A 2013 study of mice showed that waste removal processes are most active during sleep. Also, new memories are being paved and stored from the day. Basically, the important information is stored away while the non-important stuff is put into the brains version of a computer’s recycle bin. Both your heart rate and your breathing will slow down during sleep. The intestines relax and the liver slowly rebuilds itself. There’s less adrenaline flowing through the system, unless you’re experiencing a nightmare or a particularly pleasant dream.
Blood pressure will plummet and the body temperature will drop. Growth hormones are also pumped out during NREM sleep, enabling us to continue rebuilding and growing. Some people even go for a walk during sleep. Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism is a behavior that includes walking and sometimes performing complex tasks while asleep. It is more common in children than adults. A person may walk around the house, and some have been known to undertake long drives in the car while sleeping. It’s a common misconception that sleepwalkers should not be woken up. This is not true. If you see somebody asleep about to drive their car – wake them up!
Another common sleeping disorder is what we often to refer to as Night Terrors. Also known as sleep terror, this strange event takes place during the first hours of non-rapid eye slow-wave sleep. During these episodes of night terrors, people usually bolt upright with their eyes wide open and a look of fear and panic on their faces. They will often scream and sometimes violently lash out at their bedfellow. In November 2009, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that a devoted husband and father of two, Brian Thomas, had strangled his wife to death after he dreamt that she was an intruder. Members of the jury at Swansea crown court were ordered to formally acquit Thomas, who had suffered from “night terrors” for about 50 years.
A lucid dream is a dream event where the dreamer is aware of dreaming and can exert some control of the characters, setting, narrative, and general mood of the dream. Perhaps the most well-known scientist of all time, Albert Einstein, discovered his theory of relativity in a lucid dream. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein came to her in a dream, as did Robert Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Beethoven was a prolific dreamer who used his night time inspiration to create. Both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles used dreams to write their songs Satisfaction and Yesterday, respectively.
Dreams are essential for our survival. Although we can survive for periods without sleeping, eventually the human mind needs to enter the REM state. Randy Gardner is the holder of the scientifically documented record for the longest time a human being has gone without sleep. Gardner, a high school student from California, managed 264 hours (or 11 days and 25 minutes.) Towards the end of the challenge, Gardner suffered from lack of concentration, paranoia, hallucinations, and was unable to perform simple arithmetic.
So, what crazy things happen to you while you are sleeping? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to watch our other video called The Barnum Effect – Why do people believe in horoscopes? Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!