Why Do We Sleep Under Blankets?

iStock
iStock

If you’re one of those people who sleeps with a sheet even on the hottest of nights, you’re not alone. Plenty of people can’t fall asleep if they aren’t covered with something, even if it’s the lightest of blankets. Why? Dan Nosowitz at Atlas Obscura reports that it’s both physiological and behavioral, and may have a component of simple conditioning.

Surprisingly, he found, sleeping with blankets is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, blankets were expensive. Through the Middle Ages, Europeans only owned blankets if they were very wealthy. They were so precious, in fact, that bedding was passed down in people’s wills. Instead of snuggling up with a fluffy duvet, most people slept in the same bed as the rest of the household, farm animals included, to keep warm. But as fabric became cheaper and blankets more accessible, they became more commonplace household items. Now, even in tropical places, many people cover themselves with at least something during the night, with the exception of some nomadic cultures near the equator.

Part of the reason is that the body really does need extra warmth at night. Your body’s internal temperature begins to cool down before you go to bed. That’s one reason why some sleep experts recommend taking a bath or shower before bed, since your body will naturally cool off afterward, signaling to your body that it’s time to drift off. (Sticking one foot outside the covers can help, too.) Later in the night, though, that cooling off gets less pleasant and more, well, cold. During REM sleep, your body can’t regulate its own temperature. And for the most part, people tend to be in the REM stage of sleep right around dawn, when temperatures are the coldest. So we naturally learn that even if it’s pretty hot when we go to bed, we’ll wake up shivering at 4 a.m. if we don’t have a blanket.

And then there’s the neurological reason: Weighted blankets have been found to decrease anxiety and stress, because gentle pressure can stimulate serotonin production. Serotonin has been found to help modulate sleep regulation, which is part of the reason that depression and insomnia are linked—when you’re depressed, your serotonin levels are low.

There are more simple psychological reasons to cover up, too. When you’re a baby, your parents put blankets on you when you sleep, so you’re conditioned throughout your early years to associate blankies with bedtime. Above all, maybe we just all want to be swaddled forever. Doesn't that sound nice?

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

What's the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

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iStock/flySnow

It may not be easy for some people to admit, but certain national holidays often get a little muddled—namely, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sees the confusion often enough that they spelled out the distinction on their website. The two days are held six months apart: Veterans Day is celebrated every November 11, and Memorial Day takes place on the last Monday of May as part of a three-day weekend with parades and plenty of retail sales promotions. You probably realize both are intended to acknowledge the contributions of those who have served in the United States military, but you may not recall the important distinction between the two. So what's the difference?

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. It was first observed on November 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution making it an annual observance in 1926. It became a national holiday in 1938. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to recognize veterans of the two world wars. The intention is to celebrate all military veterans, living or dead, who have served the country, with an emphasis on thanking those in our lives who have spent time in uniform.

We also celebrate military veterans on Memorial Day, but the mood is more somber. The occasion is reserved for those who died while serving their country. The day was first observed in the wake of the Civil War, where local communities organized tributes around the gravesites of fallen soldiers. The observation was originally called Decoration Day because the graves were adorned with flowers. It was held May 30 because that date wasn't the anniversary for any battle in particular and all soldiers could be honored. (The date was recognized by northern states, with southern states choosing different days.) After World War I, the day shifted from remembering the fallen in the Civil War to those who had perished in all of America's conflicts. It gradually became known as Memorial Day and was declared a federal holiday and moved to the last Monday in May to organize a three-day weekend beginning in 1971.

The easiest way to think of the two holidays is to consider Veterans Day a time to shake the hand of a veteran who stood up for our freedoms. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who are no longer around to receive your gratitude personally.

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What Is the Kitchen Like on the International Space Station?

iStock/Elen11
iStock/Elen11

Clayton C. Anderson:

The International Space Station (ISS) does not really have a "kitchen" as many of us here on Earth might relate to. But, there is an area called the "galley" which serves the purpose of allowing for food preparation and consumption. I believe the term "galley" comes from the military, and it was used specifically in the space shuttle program. I guess it carried over to the ISS.

The Russian segment had the ONLY galley when I flew in 2007. There was a table for three, and the galley consisted of a water system—allowing us to hydrate our food packages (as needed) with warm (tepid) or hot (extremely) water—and a food warmer. The food warmer designed by the Russians was strictly used for their cans of food (about the size of a can of cat food in America). The U.S. developed a second food warmer (shaped like a briefcase) that we could use to heat the more "flexibly packaged" foodstuffs (packets) sent from America.

Later in the ISS lifetime, a second galley area was provided in the U.S. segment. It is positioned in Node 1 (Unity) and a table is also available there for the astronauts' dining pleasures. Apparently, it was added because of the increasing crew size experienced these days (6), to have more options. During my brief visit to ISS in 2010 (12 days or so) as a Discovery crewmember, I found the mealtimes to be much more segregated than when I spent five months on board. The Russians ate in the Russian segment. The shuttle astronauts ate in the shuttle. The U.S. ISS astronauts ate in Node 1, but often at totally different times. While we did have a combined dinner in Node 1 during STS-131 (with the Expedition 23 crew), this is one of the perceived negatives of the "multiple-galley" scenario. My long duration stint on ISS was highlighted by the fact that Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov, and I had every single meal together. The fellowship we—or at least I—experienced during those meals is something I will never, ever forget. We laughed, we argued, we celebrated, we mourned …, all around our zero-gravity "dinner table." Awesome stuff!

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Clayton "Astro Clay" Anderson is an astronaut, motivational speaker, author, and STEAM education advocate.

His award-winning book The Ordinary Spaceman, Astronaut Edition Fisher Space Pen, and new children's books A is for Astronaut; Blasting Through the Alphabet and It's a Question of Space: An Ordinary Astronaut's Answers to Sometimes Extraordinary Questions are available at www.AstroClay.com. For speaking events www.AstronautClayAnderson.com. Follow @Astro_Clay #WeBelieveInAstronauts

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