While it’s one of the most mundane, everyday parts of our day-to-day life, just how often do we stop for a moment and think about the amazing mystery that the state sleep puts us into every night? While we spend roughly a third of our lives in this unconscious state, few people can actually say that they have extensive knowledge about the topic of sleep. In fact, even scientists are sometimes at a loss for words as many details about this bodily state have only been uncovered in the past few decades.
We go to bed every night and wake up in the morning, well-rested or groggy, but how often do you try to understand what caused the difference in your night of rest and what you could do to improve this massively important part of your daily routine? Arming yourself with facts and trivia about sleep is not only a practical idea, given that it’s a major factor in your overall health and well-being, but it can actually be fun and interesting at the same time. If you are interested, below are a few surprising facts about sleep.
In the beginning, we mentioned that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping. This equals 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But does our age influence the amount of sleep we need? While there are also individual differences to take into account, humans indeed have different sleep requirements in the different phases of their lives. Newborns spend as much as 14-17 hours a day sleeping, and this is reduced to 9-12 hours when they hit school age. Teenagers need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep, so all-nighters are out of the question, while 7 hours may suffice for adults. And finally, as we get older, this number increases by an hour or two.
How fast do you fall asleep?
How long does it take for you to fall asleep after you’ve comfortably nestled into your bed? The average is between 10-20 minutes. If you fall asleep in less than 5 minutes, there’s no doubt that you’re exhausted. If you’re struggling with falling asleep, though, there may be something making you feel uncomfortable or disturbing you. You’ll read about some strategies that can help you out later on.
The truth of sleeping positions
Everyone has their favorite sleeping position. But is one sleeping position better than the next? Well, it depends. Generally, sleeping on your back would be the most ideal for your spine, but it’s not possible for those with sleep apnea, for instance. Sleeping on your side—particularly your left one—is also a beneficial position, especially for healthy digestion, but it has its drawbacks, too. The fetal position seems to be the most popular choice, and it’s a solid one as long as you keep it amply loose. Gen Z and millennials also have a tendency for the freefall position, which is also a good one for digestion.
Enemies to sleep
If you want to fall asleep swiftly and have a restful night of sleep, there are certain things you may want to steer clear of. For one, mind your coffee consumption. Caffeine can disturb your sleep even if you consume it as early as 6 hours before your bedtime. But coffee is not the only enemy to sleep. Our tech-driven lifestyle may also not be ideal for our sleep patterns. The blue light emitted by the screens of our devices can mess with our circadian rhythms. Light signifies to the body that it should stay awake and alert, so staring at your phone before bed may make it considerably more difficult to fall asleep. Therefore, remove technology from your bedtime routine for a better night’s sleep.
Don’t try to skip your Z’s
The longest anyone has ever gone without sleep, according to records, is over 11 days. However, don’t think about imitating this feat, or even doing something remotely similar. Even just a little bit of lost sleep will considerably compromise your cognitive processes the following day. Worse memory and problem-solving skills are bad enough, but they are not the only things to worry about when you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Even car crashes are more common after people lose an hour of sleep due to switching to daylight saving time! In addition, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, but also put you at risk of conditions like diabetes and cancer! According to statistics, a third of Americans are not getting the recommended amount of sleep they should, so watch out and turn in early tonight!
Sleeping habits in the past and now
While today, it is normal to go to bed in the late evening and get up in the morning, it wasn’t always like this. A few centuries back, people actually used to sleep in two segments. Getting up in the middle of the night for a short time was considered normal. People spent these quiet hours praying, reading, socializing, or spending an intimate moment with their loved one. After that, they simply went back to sleep.
Animals and sleep
You already know that people need about 7-9 hours of sleep, but did you know that these numbers can differ vastly among other living creatures? For instance, koalas can be found at one end of the spectrum with an impressive 20-22 hours of sleep per day. Compared to this, cats don’t seem that lazy anymore with their 12-16 hours of daily shuteye. On the other end of the spectrum, you will find—surprisingly—giraffes that can go on with as little as 4.5 hours. Another interesting fact is that some sea animals, like dolphins, sleep with one eye open. They are essentially half awake even in their sleep.
You have probably experienced the feeling of suddenly jerking awake just as you were about to fall asleep. This phenomenon is called hypnic jerks and—the good news is—it is completely normal. While it’s not fully known what exactly causes these jerks, it can possibly be explained by a brief misunderstanding in our brain as our muscles relax and we are about to drift off.
Napping is fine
While we are expected to leave our napping habits in preschool, the fact of the matter is that napping can actually be beneficial for you. However, hitting the right nap length is crucial for waking up refreshed and full of energy. The best would be to keep it somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes. Anything shorter won’t allow you to enter certain stages of sleep, but anything longer will likely leave you groggy. In addition, remember that the best time to nap is early in the afternoon. This way, it won’t interfere with your normal sleep schedule.
Find the perfect temperature
An uncomfortable temperature in your room can also affect your sleep considerably. But instead of creating a cozy warm space and turning up the thermostat, you may want to do the opposite. Too warm a room will make it hard for you to fall asleep, so try to keep the temperature between 60 and 67 degrees F (between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius.) Find the best places to buy quilt covers and double up on blankets if you feel a bit chilly. In fact, the weight of your blankets will additionally contribute to a better night’s sleep.
We have mentioned multiple times that sleep is sometimes not as easy as it seems. To ensure that you will sleep tight, there are a few more considerations you may want to keep in mind. While exercise is great for improving your sleep, be sure that you don’t put your workout session too close to your bedtime. The adrenaline might make it difficult to calm down and fall asleep. Other things that can threaten your good night’s sleep are light and noise. Our brains can filter out noises that don’t indicate danger, however, noise can still compromise the quality of your sleep. The same goes for light. So, be sure to turn off the TV and any other screen, close your curtains or blinds, and put on a sleep mask for the best experience.
It’s not always smooth sailing
Sleep may look like the easiest thing in the world—you just close your eyes and it should come naturally, right? Well, it’s not always like that, and if issues persist, we may be talking about sleep disorders. The most common one is definitely insomnia, affecting anywhere between 10-35% of Americans. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are also fairly common and can make it truly difficult to get proper rest. Narcolepsy may not be as common, mostly because it’s commonly undiagnosed, but you are probably familiar with its symptoms from popular media already.
Sleep is a vital part of all of our everyday lives, so it’s always a good idea to learn more about it. While some areas are still shrouded in mystery, the things we know about sleep are quite amazing as they are!