What happens when we’re asleep is somewhat of a mystery. Unless you plant Truman Show-style cameras around your bedroom, you won’t know exactly what you were up to. And the things we are aware of happening? Probably only because someone else complained to you about it…
So, how are we supposed to know what happens after lights-out when someone’s not around to tell you what’s going on? How are we supposed to stop what’s causing us bizzare, bad sleep?
We got you.
Draw the curtains, don your pj’s and grab a snuggle buddy: it’s time to take a trip into the dark depths of Snoozeville.
Woke up with a headache or a dry throat? It might be due to some late-night rumbling noises generated by you.
This rumbling noise affects 4–5 percent of males and 2–3 percent of females between the ages of 30 and 60. It occurs when “the nasal passages become smaller or blocked, causing [restricted] airflow,” reveals Dr. Lindsay Browning, chartered psychologist and sleep expert.
Fortunately, many factors that cause us to snore are temporary or can be easily remedied. If you have a cold, for example, it can inflame the nasal passage and block airflow — but you can help ease this by taking a hot shower before bed (the steam helps thin mucus and reduce inflammation), or by using a nasal spray.
Sleeping position can also be a factor, Dr. Browning adds. “People snore when they’re on their back, [so] get them to sleep on their side.”
Other culprits include excessive weight, hormonal changes, and drinking alcohol — the latter of which, Dr. Browning says, “causes your muscles to relax, stop[ping] them from keeping the nasal passage open.” Returning home to a loved one after an evening of boozing? Best go straight to the couch.
Our sleep cycles comprise three stages — light, deep, and dream — lasting around 90 minutes in total. Intense bad dreams often occur when you’re stressed or going through a tough time.
“Your brain needs to think about it at some point,” Dr. Browning points out. “If you’re not making time during the day, then [it] is going to do it for you at night.” Thus, talking through problems with a friend or counselor could help you get a better night’s rest.
Good news: we do, in fact, have plenty of positive dreams — but you’re more likely to remember the bad ones because they’re often more vivid and linked with disturbed sleep.
Meaning… you totally could’ve hooked up with Brad or Cara in your parallel world — but you just weren’t stressed out enough to recall it. Guess we can’t have it all, even with perfect sleep.
Ever find yourself unable to talk or move as you’re dozing off or just waking up? The idea of waking up “dead” is the stuff of nightmares (and dubious TV soaps), but for those who experience sleep paralysis it can feel all too real.
Sleep paralysis, a condition that affects both men and women, is actually relatively common. Up to 40 percent of us will experience it at some point in our lives, and it often starts during your teen years (as if puberty wasn’t enough to contend with). However, those diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as narcolepsy, are more likely to develop it.
While the condition isn’t dangerous and only lasts a few minutes each time, those who endure it will, understandably, want to try to prevent or reduce its occurrence.
Fortunately, some straightforward lifestyle changes can make all the difference: including getting sufficient sleep across a regular snooze cycle, reducing general stress levels, exercising often, and avoiding consuming big meals, caffeine, or alcohol before bed.
If these measures don’t work, or your sleep paralysis is related to a psychiatric condition, then speak to your healthcare provider — they may be able to prescribe medication to help make your bed a less terrifying place.
While hot flashes are often considered a menopause symptom, the rest of us can experience a good dose of the sweats in bed, too — hence why you might sometimes wake up with soggy pajamas or damp sheets.
“As we fall asleep, our body temperature drops naturally by a degree or two,” divulges Dr. Browning. “If it’s too hot outside, if your body is internally heating you, [or] you’re in a room that’s the same temperature as you are, then it’s harder for your body temperature to drop.”
To avoid overheating, pop a fan into your bedroom, and have bedsheets and nightwear made of light fibers, such as cotton.
Avoiding big meals close to bedtime can also reduce the likelihood of sweating, Dr. Browning reveals. That also means ditching spicy foods that make you perspire at the dinner table, as this effect can continue into the night.
Ever have that moment where you’re dropping off to sleep and your leg suddenly jerks? Yep, us too. This is called a hypnagogic jerk.
Dr. Browning explains that it often happens as we fall asleep. “Your body sends hormones to completely paralyze you — otherwise you’d be running around and acting out your dreams.”
When this paralysis starts to happen, sometimes your brain is still half awake — at which point, it questions whether you’ve actually dozed off. As your brain does this check, it momentarily wakes you up, and causes your leg to jerk.
Unfortunately, reveals Dr. Browning, there isn’t anything you can do to stop it beforehand, but you might be able to manage it through a little de-stressing.
When we feel stressed, our shoulders, neck and jaw tighten — and this tension can continue into the night. Woke up with a headache and jaw ache? Teeth grinding is probably your perpetrator.
“It’s often stress related,” states Dr. Browning. “But it could be something you just do, too.” Furthermore, many of us only discover it’s happening when our dentist notices damage to the teeth.
However, it’s easily treatable — and Dr. Browning recommends taking action quick. “Not only are you disrupting your sleep, but you’re literally grinding your teeth away,” she says.
Mouthguards to wear at night — available from your dentist or drugstore — can help prevent this mortar and pestle action in your mouth. So, channel your inner hockey player and wear one if necessary.
Whether you’re gabbing away or stepping out, “these things happen when you’re in deep sleep,” Dr. Browning states. Essentially, the line between being awake and asleep becomes blurred when you’re awake but not paralyzed as it would be in sleep.
A range of circumstances can lead to us sleep talking or walking, including genetics, stress, sleep apnea (a disorder linked with repeated stop-and-start breathing), and not getting enough shut-eye.
To help reduce incidence, Dr. Browning encourages us to look at our sleep hygiene — whether we get enough sleep regularly, or if something is stressing us out.
And, while sleep talking can be quite amusing, Dr. Browning notes that “sleepwalking can actually be quite dangerous.”
Before going to bed, ensure your windows and doors are locked — and a stair gate could help prevent any tumbling accidents.
Now, if you don’t sleep solo, the only thing left to figure out is how to make it up to your other half once you’ve chatted, snored or kicked your way through the night. Perhaps this is one dilemma you’ll need to sleep on…
Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on lifestyle, travel, food, health and fitness.