8 Surprising Things You Might Be Doing While Asleep

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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 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!

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

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iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
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It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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