“To sleep — perchance to dream.” It’s one of the most famous lines in literary history, written (probably?) by the man himself, Big Billy Shakespeare. The line, contemplating death and whatever lay beyond, springs to mind easily when thinking about actual sleep. But as we’ll discover today, while it’s a haunting line about mortality and the unknown, another, modern day bard wrote a line that you may find more fitting after reading this list: “The night is dark and full of terrors.”
When it comes to these terrifying facts about sleep (or lack thereof, in some cases), all we can say is this: Ain’t that the truth.
10. Snoring isn’t just annoying; it’s potentially deadly
Well, the act of snoring itself isn’t deadly, unless you’re such a chainsaw at night that your significant other finally snaps and puts you down for good. But if you’re someone who snores heavily, it could be a sign that you’re in danger of significant health issues. Namely, a heart attack or stroke.
You’ve probably heard of sleep apnea, but in case you haven’t, here’s a very quick and dirty overview: if you suffer from sleep apnea, it means your breathing frequently stops, and then abruptly restarts. This happens because the muscles in your throat relax, allowing your airway to close, which is obviously… less than ideal. You know, for the whole “continuing to live” thing.
But more than just a lack of oxygen, sleep apnea can also serve as a symptom of numerous other, more serious conditions, including the aforementioned heart attack (or heart disease) or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, “one in five adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea,” with men being more frequent victims than women. The good news is treatment is relatively simple, with a CPAP mask the most common solution. But getting good, quality rest is another way to treat sleep apnea, along with exercise and cutting back on booze. So get jogging, rummy, and you should be just fine.
9. Sleep depravation can lead to suicidal thoughts
“Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” It’s a cliche, and maybe one we should try to avoid from here on out, because believe it or not, someone acting a little grumpy in the morning might have some very serious stuff going on. That’s because if that Grumpy Gus had trouble sleeping last night, he could run the risk of suffering from heightened suicidal thoughts.
Of course, the key here is that this essentially only happens in people who suffer from depression, though those who suffer often don’t tell people they’re victims of this very serious mental health issue. For people who occasionally entertain suicidal thoughts, a rough night of sleep makes those tendencies even more prevalent the following the day. In a recent study, 51 subjects were tested and the researchers concluded that, “sleep quality may alter the strength of the relationship between pre-sleep entrapment and awakening suicidal ideation.”
So basically, tread lightly around people who seem to have “gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.” Or, better yet: just try to be nice to them. You can do that, right?
8. Sexsomnia can make you an inadvertent sexual abuser
“Sexsomnia” may sound a little funny, or like the name of a film you’d find on a website you only visit on an incognito browser, but it’s a dangerous and serious sleep disorder. Sleep talking is pretty harmless; sleepwalking less so. But sleep sex can turn you into a sexual predator… all while you’re sound asleep, and fully without your knowledge or intent.
Some of the things that could occur with someone who suffers from sleep sex, or sexsomnia, include everything from fondling and groping, to pelvic thrusting, and even masturbation and actual attempts to engage in intercourse. And to make matters even worse, those who suffer have no idea they’re doing it, and don’t remember after they wake up.
While it’s unclear exactly what causes sexsomnia, some of the factors are pretty much what you could probably guess: alcohol or drug use, side effects from some medications, stress, and sleep deprivation. It’s not always a case of masturbation (which is more common in women), or fondling, or attempting to engage in intercourse (which tends to happen more with men) with a partner, either — if you suffer from sexsomnia, you may attempt sexual activity with anyone nearby, regardless of your relationship or their gender. As you might expect, sleep sex has led to criminal prosecution in the past, with sexsomnia successfully used as a defense.
7. Violent dreams can be a sign of a brain disorder
Most people tend not to put much stock into any meaning or significance behind their dreams. If you dream about being eaten by a hamburger, there’s probably no real hidden meaning, so it stands to reason that if you experience a particularly violent nightmare, there’s no need to worry. Right?
Well, not so fast. It turns out that if you’re having incredibly vivid and increasingly violent dreams with more and more frequency, it could be a warning sign. Studies have shown that in such cases, these subjects (mostly males) suffer from REM sleep behavior disorder, and it can lead to actual inadvertent violence while that person is still sound asleep. That’s because, while your muscles are typically in a state of, essentially, paralysis while you’re in a deep sleep, when you suffer from REM sleep behavior disorder, you “act out the dream’s punches, twists and yells.” Obviously, if you’ve got someone in bed with you, they may take the brunt of those dream punches.
To make matters worse — and to get back to the title of this entry — there is believed to be a connection between REM sleep behavior disorder and brain disorders like Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia. That’s not to say REM sleep behavior disorder causes these afflictions; but it can be a strong indicator that you’ll eventually suffer from them.
6. Sleep paralysis is just plain TERRIFYING
Excuse the on-the-nose description, but sleep paralysis is a waking nightmare. To quickly clear up any confusion right off the top: when we talk about sleep paralysis, you’re not actually asleep during said paralysis. Instead, imagine your eyes have fluttered open after a deep sleep… only, you slowly realize you can’t move a muscle. You can’t speak. But you’re acutely aware of your surroundings, powerless to act or scream. To make matters worse, you’re sure an evil presence is in the room, ready to attack.
It’s no wonder sleep paralysis is also commonly referred to as night terrors. Obviously, chances of an evil creature being in the room with you are pretty much non-existent unless your name is Dean Winchester, but hallucinations are par for the course when it comes to night terrors.
As we mentioned when discussing REM sleep behavior disorder, your body (usually) essentially enters a state of paralysis when you’re asleep. With sleep paralysis, your brain is basically waking up before your muscles do. While you may have a bit of trouble breathing while suffering from sleep paralysis, night terrors themselves are more or less harmless — though, like REM sleep behavior disorder, they can be a sign of neurological diseases like narcolepsy.
5. Lack of sleep can raise your risk of cancer
It may sound crazy, but believe it or not the less you sleep, the higher the risk you could become afflicted with cancer. When you stop and think about it, though, it does make a bit of sense. After all, when you sleep, that’s when your body works to repair itself and refresh for the following day. A lack of sleep means your body isn’t getting that chance to “fix itself,” so to speak, and that in turn can impact your immune system and overall health.
And unfortunately, the connection between cancer and a lack of sleep works both ways: cancer survivors and those in treatment frequently suffer from lack of sleep, or even insomnia. A study at Johns Hopkins found that 25% of childhood cancer survivors had trouble sleeping, which is obviously less than ideal, given the importance of building up the immune system and allowing the body to rest and become rejuvenated overnight.
Going back to a lack of sleep leading to an increased risk of cancer, more research has found that, among other things, losing out on sleep decreases the production of melatonin, which “[protects] against DNA damage and acts as a tumor suppressor.” Many times, the connection between lack of sleep and development of cancer revolves around shift work, which can often throw off your body’s internal clock. The common suggestion is to set a routine that enables you to get the same amount of sleep at around the same time each night (or day), but unfortunately, that’s not always a feasible thing for people who need to work those odd and long hours.
4. Bruxism makes us cringe just thinking about it
Let’s not beat around the bush: bruxism sucks …ism? Sorry, this is no time for rhymes. Better known as teeth grinding, it’s not only annoying in that it produces horrible sounds that your partner has to deal with, but it can get so extreme that you could actually crack, or even break, your teeth or develop a serious jaw disorder.
Like most sleep disorders, one of the causes of bruxism is often stress or anxiety, or perhaps drug use. It can also be brought on by illness, causing your body to physically exert itself in really unfortunate ways — like grinding the hell out of your teeth, for example. Bruxism causes headaches, neck pain, and other similar discomforts. And while you may not break your teeth if you suffer from bruxism, all of that grinding may eventually loosen one or more of them. You could also suffer from serious cheek pain, as those who experience bruxism frequently chew on the insides of their cheeks while they sleep.
It’s unclear exactly how many people suffer from bruxism, but some estimates put it at around 8% of adults. Some of the tips for dealing with bruxism are pretty par for the course when it comes to any other sleep issues: try to relax before bed, switch up your sleep position, and make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable. Which are things we’d have thought people do anyway, but we’re not doctors. We just play them on the internet.
3. More people than you think fall asleep at the wheel
We’re as wary as anyone else about the move toward driverless vehicles, which is scary for a number of reasons, not least because, yes, we’ve seen Maximum Overdrive and the Terminator franchise. But we might be willing to risk robotic murder machines of doom (their technical name) if it means getting sleeping drivers off the roads.
And drivers falling asleep at the wheel is a lot more common than you probably realize. Chances are, a number of people who will read this article have drifted off while driving at some point, even if only for a brief moment. In a report by the Centers for Disease Control, one in 25 drivers aged 18 or older admitted to falling asleep at the wheel in the previous 30 days. That same report noted that, in 2013, around 72,000 crashes were caused by sleeping drivers, resulting in 800 deaths and thousands of additional injuries. If that’s not scary enough, the report indicates that those numbers are likely on the low side, with fatalities related to sleeping drivers possibly reaching as high as 6,000 per year.
Another report backs that last part up, with the National Safety Council estimating 5,000 car crash fatalities coming as a result of a sleeping driver in 2015. Interestingly, the NSC found that the majority of these crashes involve drivers aged 25 or younger. The signs that you’re becoming a drowsy driver are pretty obvious, from things like drifting in your lane, to yawning, to beginning to nod off. If you feel any of those symptoms coming on, do everyone a favor and pull over as soon as possible. Those places on the sides of highways are called “rest stops” for a reason.
2. You may actually murder someone while sleepwalking
It’s like something straight out of an old Law & Order episode: someone has committed a murder, and much to Jack McCoy’s shock, the defendant’s counsel has invoked the sleepwalking defense. Amazingly, it’s a defense that’s been used multiple times in criminal cases, including several murder cases. Ripped from the headlines, indeed.
Now, given the fact that people who claim the sleepwalking defense generally get convicted of their crimes, we can’t say for sure whether or not it’s possible to be so deeply asleep that you could get up out of bed and flat out murder someone without being remotely cognizant of what’s going on. One case in the 1870s involved a father coming out of a nightmare and murdering his toddler, a crime for which he was acquitted.
There are some experts who believe it is possible to carry out these heinous crimes while asleep, as outlined in a 1996 article in the New York Times. Homicidal sleepwalking is closely connected to REM disorders, and as we’ve seen with REM sleep behavior disorder earlier in this list, it’s certainly possible to behave violently while fast asleep. Whether or not the sleepwalking defense is viable in a court of law, the violence that can come from sleep disorders is very real, and very scary.
1. EXPLODING HEAD SYNDROME!! (…isn’t exactly what it sounds like)
Exploding. Head. Syndrome.
That should be one of the most terrifying phrases in the history of mankind, but thankfully, it’s not exactly what it would indicate. It’s still unpleasant, but no, your head will not spontaneously explode like you’re in a low budget horror movie if you suffer from this affliction (which you probably don’t, given how rare it is). Exploding head syndrome sufferers, instead, will hear extremely loud noises either as they fall asleep or as they wake up.
These sounds could include anything from a gunshot to a thunderclap, but the thing is, the sounds aren’t real. (That said, if you think you hear a gunshot, you should still cautiously investigate just to make sure, because, well… someone with a gun might be shooting people and you should probably become aware of that fact.) There’s typically no actual pain associated with this sleep disorder, because again — you’re just hearing an imaginary loud noise. It can stress you out and raise your heart rate, but physical pain isn’t really a symptom, which you probably didn’t expect when you saw the phrase “exploding head.”
Exploding head syndrome has been associated with the hypnagogic jerk — which you probably recognize better as that phenomenon where you feel like you’re falling (among other things) while asleep. It’s a muscle spasm that creates weird sensations when you’re either falling asleep or waking up, and while it’s annoying, it’s not exactly life-threatening. So if you suffer, you’re going to be fine, and it’s been suggested that you can treat the disorder with things like yoga or a hot bath. Or hey, why not jump in a hot tub before bed?
Now that’s the kind of medical treatment we can get behind.