10 Interesting Facts We Learned About Sleep This Year

Every year, we write a slew of sleep science stories to support retailers’ knowledge of sleep health, while also providing them with content they can easily share with consumers. These stories cover everything from basic sleep health information and fun factoids to some of the latest breakthroughs in sleep science. We learn so much ourselves from writing these stories—so this year we decided to highlight some of the most fascinating nuggets of sleep information we’ve unearthed over the last 365 days.

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1. According to this study, some people may be genetically predisposed to needing more continuous sleep than others, thus limiting their ability to nap. If you nap regularly and it gives you the boost you need to get through the day, then more than likely you’re someone who benefits from a good, old-fashioned nap. For those that are not regular nappers, naps can be disruptive and negatively impact their overall sleep routine

Read more about what you can learn from you own napping habits (or lack thereof) here.

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2. Sleep disorders featured in horror movies and TV shows aren’t necessarily exaggerated. For example: sleepwalking shows up often in horror most likely because it has also caused scary things to happen in real life. It turns out people have actually murdered other people while sleepwalking—in fact, there's an entire defense dedicated to the phenomenon.

Read our spookiest article yet here.

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3. During the pandemic, people have been much less active and it’s impacting their mood. According to a working paper released back in May, researchers found that even typically active adults are seeing serious declines in activity under lockdown—they have become 32% less active. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that most adults in the US spend nearly 72% of their time being sedentary (even before lockdown). The aim of the study overall was to see if by changing very minor aspects of one's day from a sedentary activity like watching TV to a more active one like walking while talking on the phone or doing the dishes standing up, participants would feel better. The study also considered what would happen if someone cut off a sedentary activity earlier in order to get more sleep.

The researchers were right. The study results correlated long periods of sedentary time with lower mood and poorer health—and medium to high activity levels with elevated mood and health benefits. That said, the study also concluded that low-impact exercise was not only also worthwhile, but had long-lasting positive effects as well. The other outcome of the study suggests that if you intend to lay around and watch TV in the evening, you might as well use that time to get real rest. And there’s more scientific evidence to back that idea up as well, because while exercise can feel restorative and benefit the brain, so can sleep.

Read more about sleep, exercise and the pandemic here.

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4. If you’ve been dreaming weird dreams during the pandemic you aren’t alone. This is a  normal and healthy  phenomenon. More than just a passive retelling of your daily life, research has pointed to the idea that dreams play a much more active role in our well-being. According to the “threat simulation theory,” dreams are an evolutionary function that helps the brain prepare for potential real-life stresses; they provide a risk-free opportunity to work through our fears. More than just imagining how we would react to a scary or stressful experience, dreams give us a chance to actually play-act the scenario. In this way, dreams can serve as test-runs that will hopefully alleviate some of the pressure if you ever encounter the situation in real-life.

Read more about dreaming during a global crisis here.

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5. Though not entirely sleep related, our nose is the organ that is most linked with and most similar to our genitals because it is covered in the same type of tissue—erectile tissue. In context, this fact supports and helps explain the notion that breathing through the nose is much better for us than mouth breathing. When we take in air through our noses, it’s simply processed differently. It’s as though our nose is a little more attentive to detail while our mouths allow us to take in more air at once. And, while the latter might sound more productive, it’s the former that actually is. Breathing in through the nose engages our diaphragms properly, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing us to feel more peaceful and calm while also slowing our breathing. Because of its more intricate structures, the nose also promotes more careful regulation of airflow.

Read more about how breathing impacts sleep here.

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6. As we age, we produce less growth hormone and less melatonin, making it harder to get a deep sleep. Many older people need to go to bed earlier or spend more time in bed in order to get the proper amount of sleep. Because these difficulties tend to emerge slowly over time, some people believe they simply need less sleep—staying up late and rising early. But even when you’re older, you still need a solid 7-8 hours; it just might become harder to get it.

Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine and a general schedule for your day will help. Staying active, getting some sun in the morning, using the bedroom for sleeping and sex only and avoiding alcohol before bed are all ways to make sleeping a little easier in your golden years.

Read more about aging and sleep here.

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7. Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). [Fact from Harvard Health]

Read more about the connection between mental health and sleep here.

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8. Research has shown that rooms painted in warmer colors, like reds and oranges, can actually make us feel like the temperature is warmer than ones painted with cool colors like blues and greens. The paint brand Valspar teamed up with the head of Crossmodal Research Laboratory to explore this phenomenon this year. The participants were placed in three separate rooms; each one was set to the ambient temperature of 66° F, but painted different colors. When asked to record the temperature they felt in their room, 28% felt coolest in the one painted navy blue.

This small survey reinforces an idea that color plays a big role in shaping our perceptions. The color of your bedroom walls may not only impact how hot or cold you feel, they can also affect how calm or relaxed you are when you get into bed at night—and how much sleep you end up getting.

Read more about how interior design impacts sleep here.

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9. Plants are not just beautiful; they improve emotional wellbeing, filter the air, give off nice scents and more. In fact in the 1980’s, NASA took the time to write this report on how indoor plants can contribute to pollution abatement. For these reasons and the fact that they can add style and texture to your decor, it stands to reason that plants belong in the bedroom just as much as they belong in the garden.

Read more about how plants contribute to wellbeing here.

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10. Sleep deprivation is a societal problem. While there are plenty of tips and life hacks designed to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, it’s important to remember that many of the root causes of sleep deprivation come from external forces. Things like chronic stress, trauma, financial woes - they can all generate or exacerbate mental health issues that make it even more difficult to get the rest you need. And the same goes for physical health too; injury and illness may also impact the quality of your sleep, making it more difficult for your body to heal.

Part of solving this sleep crisis will require addressing all these contributing factors—as well as thinking critically about the types of internal and external pressures society perpetuates that can lead to stress and ultimately, lack of sleep. Focusing on your own sleep health contributes to the greater good, but it’s just as important to find ways to help others achieve better sleep too. As we hopefully begin to recover from the global pandemic in the coming months, choosing to  look out for each other could be our greatest strength.

Read more about how sleep impacts communities here.