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Scientists believe that mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, some fish, and insects sleep, but not in the same way. Predators sleep longer, some animals, like bears, hibernate for months, elephants take short naps on their sleep, while dolphin’s brain stays half-awake when sleeping.     

Sleep is still a mystery to science, but a lot of interesting things we already know about it. Some of them you probably heard of, but other facts about sleep might surprise you, as well as help you improve your lifestyle.  

1.   Sheep won’t help you fall asleep.

Counting sheep was considered efficient in helping you fall asleep, but that may not be the case after all. Participants in research at Oxford University found this so boring that it had an opposite effect and kept them awake. Instead, think of calming landscapes and peaceful scenery — it’s believed to work better. 

2.   Women need more sleep.

Science says women sleep 11 minutes longer than men on average, but the reasons for it are not all good. Their brains are more prone to multitasking and because of it needs more time to recover. Other causes may include health problems, like hormonal imbalance or depression women are more likely to suffer than men.  

3.   Baby parents lose 6 months of sleep.

A survey found that 60% of parents with a child younger than 2 years of age get only a little over three hours of sleep every night. This can lead to long-term difficulty falling asleep or insomnia, meaning potential consequences to mental and physical health due to sleep deprivation. So, sleep whenever you can and don’t worry about house chores, use a babysitting service from time to time or ask someone to watch your baby.     

4.   The work you do can affect your sleep.

Your job may be the reason you have sleep problems. For example, people on the night shift lose more sleep than those on the day shift. If you fly frequently for work, you may experience sleep deprivation due to high altitudes. Also, let’s not forget that if your job brings stress and anxiety, you may lose sleep because of it, as well. 

5.   Humans are not the only ones with sleep problems.

Some findings suggest that our pets may suffer from insomnia, too. The effects are similar to those that humans experience when sleep-deprived, like loss of balance and irritation. One of the reasons may be the anxiety the animal experiences, like that in horses kept in stables who stay awake 85% of the night. However, if your pet is not getting proper sleep, take them to the vet for a checkup since sometimes there may be an underlying health condition causing this issue.

6.   Lack of sleep can impair your memory.

According to a 2013 study, lack of sleep may cause your memory to slip here and there. If you notice not being able to remember the name of your favorite actor or any other mundane thing, think of your sleep habits. During sleep, the brain consolidates memory and stores it to make room for new ones. Lack of sleep disrupts this process so you can become forgetful, causing problems at work, school, and other parts of your life.

7.   A small percentage of people have black and white dreams.

A 2008 study found that individuals who watched black and white television were more likely to have equally colorless dreams. A fair amount of data also suggested that grayscale dreams may only happen to people who previously had some experience with black and white media. An interesting fact is that before color television appeared, as little as 15% of people had colored dreams. 

8.   The longest sleepless period is 11 days and 25 minutes.

A boy named Randy Gardner stayed awake for 11 days and 25 minutes as an experiment for a science fair back in 1964. Although he experiences a change of sense of hearing, smell, and taste, everything else seemed alright. When the experiment was over, Randy slept for 14 hours and went to school the next day, without any issues. Although many tried to stay awake for longer and the Guinness Book of Records even had a category for it, the attempts were discontinued for being dangerous to health.      

9.   We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping.

It may be unbelievable, but a third of human life is spent sleeping. This doesn’t mean you should start sleeping less but try to have 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Sleep helps our bodies regenerate, makes us younger, more productive, and improves our overall health. It shouldn’t be something you intend to sacrifice, but a habit you want to keep.   

10. You can’t make up for lost sleep.

There is no such thing as compensating for lost sleep! A 2010 study showed that this doesn’t work and you will end up with a loss of focus and longer reaction times. It’s okay if you have to sleep less than 7 hours once in a while, but try not to make it a habit or you will experience chronic sleep deprivation.

11. Adult napping is a thing.

Countries with warm weather have developed a tradition of napping in the afternoon after lunch. This nap is known as siesta and everyone should do it. Taking 20–30 minutes for a short nap will give you energy and make you feel more refreshed. In Japan, taking a nap in public or at work is considered a sign of diligence, something practiced in this country for 1000 years. So, you see, napping is not only for kindergarten children but recommended for everyone, regardless of age.  

12. The phone screen prevents you from falling asleep.

Light during the day tells your body when it’s time to stay awake and lack of it at night when it’s time to sleep. However, the problem of modern humans is that this light remains on deep into the night because of the various digital screens we use. TVs, smartphones, tablets, and computers emit bright light that tells your body it’s not time to fall asleep. To prevent this, keep electronic devices as far away as possible from your bed and don’t use your phone at least half an hour before bedtime.

13. Nightmares are not only about fear.

When someone mentions nightmares, the first thing that comes to mind is certainly fear. But this is not the most common sensation people experience when having bad dreams. Guilt and sadness, as well as confusion, are more frequent than fear, according to research. This is a good reason to analyze them and the cause of having them in the first place since persistent nightmares can lead to sleep deprivation.

14. It’s a good sign if you fall asleep between 10–20 minutes.

It should take 10–20 minutes to fall asleep, but that is not always the case. Exhausted people fall asleep in less than 5, and those with insomnia may toss and turn in their beds for hours. However, you can change this with comfortable bed linen, not drinking caffeine before sleep, or using supplements with melatonin. A few drops of essential oil, like lavender on your pillow, may also do the trick.    

15. Some people feel great after less than 7 hours of sleep.

There are people out there who need less sleep than recommended. According to researchers at the University of California, this is all because of genetic mutation. These individuals called “short sleepers” don’t experience any consequences or sleep deprivation because they get less than six hours of shuteye. They make up for only 1–3% of the population, and former US President Donald Trump claimed to be one of them.  

16. The feeling of falling in your sleep is called hypnic jerks.

Probably each one of us has experienced hypnic jerks, the sensation of falling that wakes us, usually in distress. No matter how disturbing they are, hypnic jerks are normal and commonly happen to younger people. Nonetheless, they are uncomfortable so you can try to prevent them by avoiding physical activity and caffeine before bed.

17.   Poor sleep or lack of it can lead to weight gain.

During sleep you can burn calories, so not sleeping enough can lead to weight gain based on a 2016 research article. Lack of sleep triggers a response in the body similar to that marijuana has and affects a person’s appetite levels. The less sleep you have, the more you will crave food and therefore eat, gaining weight in the process. 

18. Sleep deprivation can be deadly.

Sleep deprivation is dangerous, even life-threatening. When you lack sleep, your attention, focus, and thinking are less efficient, creating opportunities to cause or suffer an accident. Health problems connected to lack of sleep include diabetes, high blood pressure, and decreased immune response. Sleeping is equally important as eating, drinking water, and breathing to have a healthy and fulfilled life.

Final thoughts

While these facts about sleep might surprise you, they should also serve as reminders of how important sleeping is. Just look at Spain and its siesta, or Japan and centuries of tradition to nap at the desk. Sleeping may seem like an overrated activity, but depriving yourself of it can bring a world of trouble for your mental and physical health.