8 Surprising Things You Might Be Doing While Asleep

iStock
iStock

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

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. SPOUTING OFF

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

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

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. NOSHING

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

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. GETTING PARALYZED

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 to about 40 percent of people. These episodes usually pass quickly.

8. DROPPING POUNDS

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!

Periodic Table Discovered at Scotland's St Andrews University Could Be World's Oldest

Alan Aitken
Alan Aitken

The oldest surviving periodic table of elements in the world may have been found at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, according to the Scottish newspaper The Courier.

University researchers and international experts recently determined that the chart, which was rediscovered in a chemistry department storage area in 2014, dates back to 1885—just 16 years after Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev invented the method of sorting the elements into related groups and arranging them by increasing atomic weight.

Mendeleev’s original periodic table had 60 elements, while the modern version we use today contains 118 elements. The chart found at St Andrews is similar to Mendeleev’s second version of the table, created in 1871. It’s thought to be the only surviving table of its kind in Europe.

The periodic table soaks in a washing treatment
Richard Hawkes

The St Andrews table is written in German, and was presumably produced for German universities to use as a teaching aid, according to St Andrews chemistry professor David O’Hagan. The item itself was dated 1885, but St Andrews researcher M. Pilar Gil found a receipt showing that the university purchased the table from a German catalog in 1888. A St Andrews chemistry professor at the time likely ordered it because he wanted to have the latest teaching materials in the scientific field, even if they weren't written in English.

When university staffers first found the table in 2014, it was in “bad condition,” O’Hagan tells The Courier in the video below. The material was fragile and bits of it flaked off when it was handled. Conservators in the university's special collections department have since worked to preserve the document for posterity.

The 19th century table looks quite a bit different from its modern counterparts. Although Mendeleev laid the groundwork for the periodic table we know today, English physicist Henry Moseley improved it in 1913 by rearranging the elements by the number of protons they had rather than their atomic weight. Then, in the 1920s, Horace Deming created the boxy layout we now associate with periodic tables.

Learn more about the St Andrews discovery in the video below.

[h/t The Courier]

Can You Tell an Author’s Identity By Looking at Punctuation Alone? A Study Just Found Out.

iStock.com/RyersonClark
iStock.com/RyersonClark

In 2016, neuroscientist Adam J Calhoun wondered what his favorite books would look like if he removed the words and left nothing but the punctuation. The result was a stunning—and surprisingly beautiful—visual stream of commas, question marks, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods.

Recently, Calhoun’s inquiry piqued the interest of researchers in the United Kingdom, who wondered if it was possible to identify an author from his or her punctuation alone.

For decades, linguists have been able to use the quirks of written texts to pinpoint the author. The process, called stylometric analysis or stylometry, has dozens of legal and academic applications, helping researchers authenticate anonymous works of literature and even nab criminals like the Unabomber. But it usually focuses on an author's word choices and grammar or the length of his or her sentences. Until now, punctuation has been largely ignored.

But according to a recent paper led by Alexandra N. M. Darmon of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an author’s use of punctuation can be extremely revealing. Darmon’s team assembled nearly 15,000 documents from 651 different authors and “de-worded” each text. “Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on their punctuation sequences?” the researchers asked. “Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time?”

Apparently, yes. The researchers crafted mathematical formulas that could identify individual authors with 72 percent accuracy. Their ability to detect a specific genre—from horror to philosophy to detective fiction—was accurate more than half the time, clocking in at a 65 percent success rate.

The results, published on the preprint server SocArXiv, also revealed how punctuation style has evolved. The researchers found that “the use of quotation marks and periods has increased over time (at least in our [sample]) but that the use of commas has decreased over time. Less noticeably, the use of semicolons has also decreased over time.”

You probably don’t need to develop a powerful algorithm to figure that last bit out—you just have to crack open something by Dickens.

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