There’s no denying the importance of having an ideal night of sleep, and while the rewards for getting in your fair share are plenty, have you wondered why?
Sure, it’s a natural part of our lives, but there’s much more to the story of sleep than you think. Beyond its almost magical elements to its impact on things like anxiety, depression, productivity, and happiness, the more you know about sleep, the better.
So, let’s dive into some psychological facts about sleep.
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29 Psychological Facts About Sleep
Time to delve into the often mysterious world of sleeping and discover every bit of valuable information to help you rest easy tonight.
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1. There’s No Scientific Explanation on Why We Need to Sleep
As shocking as this might seem, scientists and researchers still cannot agree on why you need to sleep. Some argue that it simply doesn’t make evolutionary sense. Aside from spending nearly a third of your life asleep, it also exposes you to external threats.
On the other hand, some believe that sleep is a necessary function because it sends the brain‘s cleaning system into overdrive. Other researchers theorize that sleep helps consolidate memories. But ultimately, the jury is still out on this one.
2. How Much Sleep You Need Is Largely Genetic
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s guidelines on sleep, it’s pretty clear that you need a set amount of sleep based on your age. This is thanks to genetics, and although some people can get by on fewer hours than recommended, it’s not an ideal thing to do.
On that note, no credible evidence shows you can train yourself to need less sleep. If you get by with less sleep, studies have shown that it could be because of a single genetic mutation, which is quite rare.
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3. Humans Are the Only Mammals to Delay Sleep
If you’ve ever had to push through a long night to get something done, you already know that it’s possible to delay sleep. The ability to postpone going to sleep is unique to humans; we are the only mammal species that does so intentionally.
Even when your bodies tell you to head to bed, you easily override them and continue your tasks. The opposite is true for other mammals. When their bodies give the sleep signal, they seemingly have no choice.
4. Some People Dream in Black and White
The realm of dreams is just as fascinating as other elements of sleeping. However, some studies show that up to 12% of people dream in black and white. Before the invention of color television, though, only 15% of people recorded dreaming in color.
Psychologically speaking, this affects your mental state, as vivid dreams that showcase extraordinary detail are often linked to depression. Multi-colored dreams and an increase in their number usually indicate a higher likelihood of depression.
Read more: Here are some pretty rad psychological facts about dreaming of someone.
5. Men and Women Sleep Differently
It’s not hard to believe that sleep also plays a part in the many differences between men and women. The National Sleep Foundation and several other studies have shown that male and female circadian rhythms differ.
Your circadian rhythm comes down to every physical, mental, and behavioral change you experience daily. Men display longer cycles by six minutes, translating into being more tired at night, while women have a shorter cycle meaning they generally wake up earlier.
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6. You Should Be Able to Fall Asleep Quickly
Those nights you’ve been in bed waiting for the glorious moment when you drift into slumberland, and it takes forever, aren’t supposed to happen. Research has shown that a healthy functioning brain should ideally fall asleep in about 10 to 15 minutes.
Anything less than that could indicate that you suffer from sleep deprivation, which brings many other problems. It could be a sign of high stress or anxiety if you constantly battle to fall asleep.
7. Everyone Wakes Up During the Night
It’s not uncommon to find yourself waking up during the night. It’s a completely normal brain function and can happen several times. It’s not always about your psychological state, either. External factors like temperature changes and noise contribute.
You might be waking up for brief moments at a time far more than you remember. Studies by The Sleep Council have shown that tiny awakenings accompany each stage of sleep, and it’s entirely normal.
8. The Placebo Effect Applies to Sleep
Like other areas of your psychological state, the placebo effect is noticeable when practiced on your perception of your sleep. A study by Draganich and Erdal found that if you are told you had a good night’s rest, you will feel better, regardless of whether you did.
Known as “Placebo Sleep”, the study provided interesting results with participants who were told they slept well performing better in cognitive tests. Conversely, those who were told nothing about their sleep quality showed average results in the same tests.
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9. Sleeping Reinforces Emotions
While not one of the main reasons that sleep is necessary, some psychologists believe your memories are organized and categorized during sleep cycles. As you sleep, they theorize, your brain is busy deciding which memories to keep and which to discard.
Another similar review concluded that memories with more emotion attached to them are kept. In turn, those emotions are reinforced in your mind and can become dominant while awake.
10. The Full Moon Affects How You Sleep
Sometimes, you can blame a bad night of sleep on the moon. To be precise, the phase of the moon. Some people can feel actual changes during a full moon, and until recently, the scientific community was very skeptical.
A small study of 33 volunteers found that around the full moon, their brain activity relating to deep sleep dipped by 30%. Beyond that, they also reported that it took them five to 10 minutes longer to fall asleep, and they slept on average 20 minutes less.
11. Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Food Cravings
It’s not strange to experience sometimes severe food cravings when you’re sleep deprived. Widely accepted, intense food cravings are a common symptom of this condition, but a study by UC Berkeley discovered these cravings almost always lean toward junk food.
Increased activity levels within the depths of the brain, the part responsible for your rewards and automatic behavioral systems, are to blame. The higher these levels, the lower your self-control and preconceptions that junk food is always available, make it an easy out.
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12. It’s Possible to Learn While You Sleep
Before you get overly excited, you can’t learn a new skill or learn fresh knowledge while asleep. However, some psychologists say you can reinforce your skill set while sleeping.
In a study on offline learning done by nature neuroscience, individuals learning to play an instrument were asked to take a 90-minute nap as they listened to a series of notes. Upon waking, all participants found playing the notes they had been listening to easier.
13. Being a Night Owl Negatively Affects Your Brain
Most people identify as night owls or early risers but only recently have in-depth studies have been done on why this is. Surprisingly different neural structures were seen in both night owls and early risers.
A study on 59 admitted night owls confirmed a lower integrity of white matter present in their brains compared to their counterparts. This matter is largely responsible for emotional regulation, and having lower levels can cause depression and cognitive instability.
14. Children Need More Sleep
Have you sat back and daydreamed about your youth when sleep was easy and plentiful? As it turns out, the science behind why children need a set amount of sleep and regular bedtimes is due to more information processing.
Because children experience many new things each day, their brains work overtime to keep up and stabilize cognitive performance.
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15. Getting More Sleep as an Adolescent Can Improve Mental Health
Compared to children, adolescents also benefit from roughly one or two more hours of sleep than previously thought. Considering the possibility of this, a 2013 study delayed the wake-up time of a group of adolescents in boarding school by 25 minutes.
The most significant result was that the number of these students who had high-quality eight hours of sleep jumped to 44%. The students also showed less daytime drowsiness, lower levels of depression, and reduced caffeine cravings.
16. How You Sleep Can Impact Your Relationships
Nobody likes a grumpy person in the morning, and most people are at their worst when they’ve had a terrible night without sufficient sleep. These mood alterations can potentially affect your relationships very negatively.
Even people who consider themselves good sleepers have reported more relationship conflicts after just one bad night. Psychologists believe that because of the emotional regulation that comes with adequate sleep, going without it can cause less empathy and selfishness, which is exerted on those closest to us.
17. Sleeping Opens Up Hidden Caves Inside Your Brain
Hardly a day goes by without some new revelation about the restorative properties sleep has on people. From improvements in mood to cognitive function, sleep seems to offer only beneficial results, but why?
Well, in a study done in 2013, researchers discovered that while asleep, what they called “hidden caves” open up in your brain. These tunnels allow more cerebrospinal fluid to flush out any potential neurotoxins, the most notable being β-amyloid, commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
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18. Not Getting Enough Sleep Can Cause Bizarre Side-Effects
By now, it’s clear that getting enough sleep is critical and has numerous advantages, and in the same fashion getting too little holds plenty of disadvantages. Sleep deprivation is not new, but excessive deprivation has been shown to stir up some truly bizarre results.
Researchers attending a 2014 Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting reported many outlandish findings. Some of the standouts were that people who had less sleep were less concerned with losing money while gambling and others had less empathy when shown otherwise horrifying images.
19. You Can’t Really Catch Up on Lost Sleep
Often, people tend to believe that those precious hours of sleep they sacrifice during weekdays, for whatever reason, can be caught up somehow. It appears that a game of cat and mouse happens, especially over weekends. According to most studies, you can’t catch up on your sleep no matter how hard you try.
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This is partially due to the brain’s habitual, routine structure of having (in some cases demanding) seven to eight hours of sleep every night of the week. Binge sleeping was found to have very little to no effects in a study done by Penn State University.
20. Sleep Quality Outweighs Quantity
As important as sleep duration is (and it is), it’s not the be-all, end-all of effective sleep. You could spend hours upon hours asleep, but if your sleep quality isn’t great, you’ll suffer from similar consequences to sleep deprivation.
The quality of your sleep depends on several factors, including sleep continuity or lack of any disruptions to your sleep. Constant awakenings through your sleep cycles decrease time spent in the most essential stages, such as deep and REM sleep, both of which are essential.
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21. Your Senses Change While You Sleep
Two of the most relied-upon senses, smell and sound, seem to take a backseat while you’re asleep. Not equally, though, as your sense of sound doesn’t decrease essentially. Instead, your brain selectively filters out certain noises, specifically noises that suggest you’re not in danger. Otherwise, you’d wake up quite a lot.
As for your sense of smell, well, that’s entirely different. During sleep cycles, studies have shown that it decreases substantially. While in deep or REM sleep, odors, regardless of their danger levels, cannot wake you up. This is one of the reasons the modern fire alarm was invented.
22. Sleeping Positions Link to Your Personality
Yes, your personality type even shines through while you sleep. In fact, some authentic parts of your personality could be displayed in the sleeping position you like the most, according to Professor Chris Idzikowski from the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service.
In his research, he found six distinctive sleeping positions: the fetal, log, yearner, starfish, soldier, and freefall. In turn, these positions seem directly linked to some personality traits. For example, people who prefer to sleep in the fetal position could appear tough on their exteriors but are actually gentle souls.
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23. Your Creativity Impacts How Well You Sleep
Your brain sits divided between its left and right sectors, each responsible for separate aspects of your daily life. The right brain is more imaginative, while the left is more logical, but both contribute to your creative process and function.
While REM sleep, where you experience vivid dreams, is crucial to this, your entire sleep cycle affects your creativity. However, people who identify themselves as creative thinkers show a stark difference from people who don’t when it comes to sleep.
Creative people tend to sleep more, but their quality of sleep appears to be less than ideal. This is why it is thought that creatives tend to daydream far more due to a psychological need that isn’t met while asleep.
24. Sleeping on Your Problems Can Help Solve Them
As counterproductive as that may sound, researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that REM sleep aids in creative problem-solving. Although this does not mean once you encounter a problem, the first step is to nap immediately.
Instead, creative problem-solving of issues that you’re already working on while awake is enhanced by the REM cycle. This is because of the stimulation of associative network creation while in this stage. As this happens, your brain subconsciously connects potentially unrelated ideas into possible solutions.
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25. Sleep Paralysis and Its Side-Effects Stick in Your Mind
If you’ve never experienced sleep paralysis, count yourself lucky and among the six out of every ten people who never have to go through this terrifying experience. But what exactly is this phenomenon, and why does it happen?
Several studies have found three common types of this condition:
- Intruder hallucinations – This is the perception of a dangerous presence in the room.
- Vestibular-Motor hallucinations – Here, you experience feelings of movement or out-of-body sensations.
- Chest pressure hallucinations – Feelings of suffocation or inability to breathe.
As for causes, research has shown possibilities, from obstructive sleep apnea and PTSD to more mundane things like jet lag. It has been demonstrated that the repercussions of sleep paralysis linger psychologically, making it all the more scary.
26. Affirmations Positively Affect Sleep
In the same way that the placebo effect, upon waking, can change your impression of the quality of your sleep, positive affirmations before bedtime can make it easier and better. The world of affirmations is buzzing at the moment with thousands of social media influences boasting about its benefits, and it seems for sleep this is true.
Affirmations relieve stress and generally create a more positive mindset; if you want a good night’s rest, that’s a golden standard. It also doesn’t need to be a full-on affirmative essay, simple phrases such as “I choose to sleep well” is enough to trigger your brain into doing what is necessary.
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27. There Are Strange Parasomnias Without Explanation
Parasomnia is a disorder that causes people to act and do things while asleep, mostly involuntarily. You may already know the two most common ones, sleepwalking and talking. But, there are quite a few more strange versions of this disorder that still have very little to no explanations.
One is sleep eating, and the other is sleep sex. As amusing as that sounds, a Stanford University study in 2002 found cases of aggressive and non-consensual sexual acts committed to people while their partners were fast asleep. The worst part is that those who suffer from parasomnia often have no memory of it the next day.
28. Weekend Sleeping Patterns Can Cause Social Jetlag
Have you ever felt exceptionally more tired on a Monday morning compared to other weekday mornings? As it turns out, this is what researchers have concluded is the result of so-called “social jetlag” after a weekend spent socializing.
These higher levels of late-night activity over weekends change your sleep pattern. When you need to return to a regular routine on a Monday morning, waking up earlier than the two previous two days physically and psychologically feels like climbing a mountain.
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29. Brain Activity Does Not Stop While You Sleep
For the longest time, people believed that while you sleep, your brain activity takes on a slower pace, and certain parts of the brain shut down completely. The truth, however, is that you’re pretty active while sleeping, especially at a metabolic level.
During REM sleep, electrical activity patterns in your brain are as active as they are when you’re awake. Other stages of deep sleep help with the secretion of certain hormones that help you feel refreshed in the morning, and you can even lose weight while in dreamland. However, no sleep diet plan has hit the market yet.
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