8 Surprising Things You Might Be Doing While Asleep

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As important as sleep is, scientists don't fully understand exactly how it works or why we have to do so much of it (one-third of our lives is spent sleeping!). It's likely there's a lot going on at night that you don't even know about, since sleep is actually quite a busy time for your body. Here are eight things you might be doing without knowing it.

1. Keeping Time in Your Sleep

You might be asleep but your hypothalamus is not. It's carefully keeping time for you as part of your circadian rhythm. This not only helps you feel tired so that you go to sleep with the release of melatonin, but a protein called PER is released in the morning that gradually wakes you up, often right before your alarm clock is set to go off.

2. Talking in Your Sleep

What do you have to say when you're asleep? Sleep-talking or somniloquy can range from random noises to complete sentences. About 5 percent of adults do it (it's slightly more common in children), and it can happen during any stage of sleep. It's most common in men and kids, and can be brought on by fever, sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, or depression. Don't worry though—there's no evidence people tell their deepest, darkest secrets while asleep. The biggest concern may be that you're keeping your sleep partner awake.

3. Grinding Your Teeth While You're Asleep

Most people grind their teeth while they are asleep, at least sometimes. This habit, called bruxism, can be caused by emotional or psychological states like stress or anxiety, from an abnormal bite (misalignment of your teeth), or even from sleep apnea. Most people are unaware they do this until their dentist notices evidence of unusual wear. If you're damaging your teeth at night, your dentist can give you a mouth guard to prevent it.

4. Getting Busy in Your Sleep

You might be having more fun than you realize while you are asleep. A small number of people—about 8 percent, according to one Canadian study—suffer from sexsomnia, which is basically the sex version of sleepwalking. Sexsomnia can not only cause you to have sex with someone without consciously realizing it (and you'll only know if they tell you about it when you're awake), but it can also cause masturbation while sleeping. Men are more likely to experience this than women. Stress, medications, alcohol, and sleep deprivation are risk factors.

5. Eating and Drinking While You're Asleep

Every calorie counts, even those you eat while asleep. Some people experience sleep eating, where they sleepwalk and eat and drink without waking up. People who do this tend to do it once a night, and they eat things that are high-calorie or high in fat and are items they might not normally eat. It can actually be dangerous if you eat non-food items, eat or drink excessive amounts, or injure yourself while cooking.

6. Clearing Your Brain as You Sleep

You think you're resting, but your brain is doing some serious housekeeping every single night. While you are asleep your brain clears out some memories and cements and reorganizes others. The brain also physically cleans itself with a flood of cerebrospinal fluid, which removes unnecessary proteins that can act as toxins.

7. Experiencing Sleep Paralysis

Your muscles are frozen for part of every night. It's actually normal and healthy to be paralyzed during sleep. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep your brain is busy dreaming, but to protect yourself from responding to the dreams (for example, screaming when something scary happens or waving your arms to push away an oncoming danger in your dream), your body's muscles are paralyzed. It's possible to actually wake up during the tail end of this cycle and be awake but unable to move, which can be upsetting or even terrifying. It's also relatively common, having occurred in about 40 percent of people. These episodes usually pass quickly.

8. Dropping Pounds While Sleeping

You might be conked out at night, but it turns out your body is still working hard. Each night you lose about a pound due to the water vapor you expel while breathing. You also lose weight since you're expelling carbon atoms with each exhalation. Because of this, the best number on your scale will be first thing in the morning, so take advantage of it!

Alcohol-Producing Gut Bacteria May Harm Livers—Even if You Don't Drink

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itakdalee/iStock via Getty Images

Teetotalers might think their liver is safe from the damaging effects of alcohol consumption, but new research is hinting that even non-drinkers and light drinkers might have cause for concern. It turns out a type of gut bacteria is capable of producing alcohol—and enough of it to potentially cause some pretty serious health consequences, including liver disease.

A study led by Jing Yuan at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics in Beijing, China and published in the journal Cell Metabolism offers details. After evaluating a patient with auto-brewery syndrome (ABS), a rare condition brought on by consumption and fermentation of sugary foods that leaves a person with high blood alcohol levels, researchers made an intriguing discovery. Rather than finding fermenting yeast that may have led to the condition, the patient’s stool contained Klebsiella pneumonia, a common gut bacteria capable of producing alcohol. In this subject, K. pneumonia was producing significantly more alcohol than in healthy patients.

The patient also had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), characterized by fatty deposits in the liver. While many cases of NAFLD are relatively benign, too much fat can become toxic. Examining 43 other subjects with NAFLD, scientists found that that K. pneumonia was both present and potent, pumping out more alcohol than normal in 60 percent of participants with NAFLD. In the control group, a surplus was found in only 6.25 percent.

To further observe a correlation, scientists fed the bacteria to healthy, germ-free mice, who began to see an increase in fat in their livers after only one month. While not conclusive proof that the bacteria prompts NAFLD, it will likely trigger additional research in humans.

It’s not yet known how K. pneumonia acts in concert with the bacterial profile of the gut or what might make someone carrying stronger strains of the bacteria. Luckily, K. pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. That’s good news for people who might never touch a drink and still find themselves with a damaged liver.

[h/t Live Science]

5 Hilarious Discoveries from the 2019 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

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andriano_cz/iStock via Getty Images

Each September, the Ig Nobel Prizes (a play on the word ignoble) are given out to scientists who have wowed the world with their eccentric, imaginative achievements. Though the experiments are usually scientifically sound and the results are sometimes truly illuminating, that doesn’t make them any less hilarious. From postal workers’ scrotal temperatures to cube-shaped poop, here are our top five takeaways from this year’s award-winning studies.

1. Left and right scrota often differ in temperature, whether you’re naked or not.

Roger Mieusset and Bourras Bengoudifa were awarded the anatomy prize for testing the scrotum temperatures in clothed and naked men in various positions. They found that in some postal workers, bus drivers, and other clothed civilians, the left scrotum is warmer than the right, while in some naked civilians, the opposite is true. They suggest that this discrepancy may contribute to asymmetry in the shape and size of male external genitalia.

2. 5-year-old children produce about half a liter of saliva per day.

Shigeru Watanabe and his team nabbed the chemistry prize for tracking the eating and sleeping habits of 15 boys and 15 girls to discover that, regardless of gender, they each produce about 500 milliliters of spit per day. Children have lower salivary flow rates than adults, and they also sleep longer (we produce virtually no saliva when we sleep), so it seems like they may generate much less saliva than adults. However, since children also spend more time eating than adults (when the most saliva is produced), the average daily levels are about even—at least, according to one of Watanabe’s previous studies on adult saliva.

3. Scratching an ankle itch feels even better than scratching other itches.

Ghada A. bin Saif, A.D.P. Papoiu, and their colleagues used cowhage (a plant known to make people itchy) to induce itches on the forearms, ankles, and backs of 18 participants, whom they then asked to rate both the intensity of the itch and the pleasure derived from scratching it. Subjects felt ankle and back itches more intensely than those on their forearms, and they also rated ankle and back scratches higher on the pleasure scale. While pleasure levels dropped off for back and forearm itches as they were scratched, the same wasn’t true for ankle itches—participants still rated pleasurability higher even while the itchy feeling subsided. Perhaps because there’s no peace quite like that of scratching a good itch, the scientists won the Ig Nobel peace prize for their work.

4. Elastic intestines help wombats create their famous cubed poop.

In the final 8 percent of a wombat’s intestine, feces transform from a liquid-like state into a series of small, solid cubes. Patricia Yang, David Hu, and their team inflated the intestines of two dead wombats with long balloons to discover that this formation is caused by the elastic quality of the intestinal wall, which stretches at certain angles to form cubes. For solving the mystery, Yang and Hu took home the physics award for the second time—they also won in 2015 for testing the theory that all mammals can empty their bladders in about 21 seconds.

5. Romanian money grows bacteria better than other money.

Habip Gedik and father-and-son pair Timothy and Andreas Voss earned the economics prize by growing drug-resistant bacteria on the euro, U.S. dollar, Canadian dollar, Croatian luna, Romanian leu, Moroccan dirham, and Indian rupee. The Romanian leu was the only one to yield all three types of bacteria tested—Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci. The Croatian luna produced none, and the other banknotes each produced one. The results suggest that the Romanian leu was most susceptible to bacteria growth because it was the only banknote in the experiment made from polymers rather than textile-based fibers.

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