I think we all agree that sleep is strange. While you are lying there, unconscious, your brain waves change, your eyes move back and forth (called “fast eye movement” or REM), you have vivid dreams, and you might even get up and walk. These are well-known things that can happen to your body while you sleep, but many other strange things can also happen. Here are 10 unique things that can happen when you sleep.
1. You could experience the nightmare of sleep paralysis
If you have ever felt caught in a nightmare while you were on the verge of sleep, it is likely that you have suffered from “sleep paralysis” – and it was probably just terrifying. “If you get stuck in this state… you will sleep enough to think[you have a] dream, but you will be awake enough to know that you are in bed and you can’t move,” says Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, a professional dream analyst. During these moments, some people swear that they see ghosts, shadows or demons standing on their chest. “It’s just a hallucination caused by the very active tonsil.” It’s still very scary, though…
2. It’s possible to have orgasms during a sex dream
We have all heard about “wet dreams” for men. But did you know that this can happen to us too, girls? “Sex in a dream seems very real and an orgasm occurs following this dream,” says Loewenberg. “The body doesn’t know the difference between an event in a dream and an event in the morning, so it will react in the same way.” Pretty cool, right?
3. Some people stop breathing (just for a few seconds)
On a much less amusing note, some people suffer from a serious medical condition called sleep apnea, which, as Dr. Scott LeSueur tells us, causes them to stop breathing during certain periods of the night. The disease affects up to 25% of the population and must often be identified and treated by a doctor in a sleep clinic. Two things can tell you that you have this problem: you wake up snoring and feel totally exhausted during the day.
4. You may feel like you’re falling
Did you ever feel like you were falling asleep? “This happens during the transition from awakening to sleep and is called a “hypnotic moron,” says Tishman. “It’s an involuntary tic associated with a fast heart rate, fast breathing and a lot of sweating.” This can literally wake you up.
5. It is possible to move during your dreams
For some, this paralyzing safety measure may not work, which will make you move during your dreams. “REM sleep behavior disorder is a condition in which a person physically realizes his or her dreams, good and bad, with sudden sounds and movements during his or her REM sleep cycle,” says Tishman.
6. Snoring can become a major problem
Some people snore, while others really snore. As Tishman tells us, this annoying problem is due to the fact that your body relaxes during sleep, causing the muscles in your throat to become soft. When you breathe, these muscles vibrate, causing snoring. And the narrower your throat, the louder the snoring.
7. Your body extinguishes some of its senses
If you think the smell of an amazing breakfast (or something scary, like smoke) will wake you up, don’t count on it. “The deeper the sleep, the harder it is to wake someone up with smells,” says Tishman. “Although this is a matter of debate, it is believed that the sense of smell stops during sleep. That’s one of the reasons why smoke detectors are so important – chances are the smell of smoke isn’t enough to wake you up.”
8. You might have strange sensations in your legs
If you feel you need to move your legs once in bed, it may be a sign of a strange condition called restless legs syndrome. “You’re not supposed to run a marathon all night, every night,” according to specialist Jacob Teitelbaum. “This is what people with restless leg syndrome go through, where their legs run all night.” According to him, RLS is a movement disorder caused by an inadequate amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that could be caused by an insufficient amount of iron in your diet.
9. It’s possible to have nightmares because of hunger
Nightmares can occur for a number of reasons. But some are really scary – like those that wake you up in sweat – can be due to hypoglycemia. This is especially true if you are very hungry during the day according to Teitelbaum.
10. Your whole body stops and you are paralyzed
As mentioned above, your body becomes paralyzed once you enter REM sleep (or the dream stage), about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. “At this stage, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine neurotransmitters disable the specialized cells in the brain that allow muscles to be active, literally paralyzing your skeletal muscles,” says Loewenberg. “It’s an ingenious integrated security mechanism so we don’t get up and realize our dreams.” Once you are asleep and dreaming, you will have no idea that you can no longer move. But this may explain why you sometimes have to “get out of a dream” if you suddenly wake up in the middle of the night.