If you think the weirdest thing that can happen to you while you’re sleeping is an unsettling dream, think again. We know more about sleep today than ever before, but exactly what your body goes through during sleep is still unknown and made all the more mysterious by oddball things your body can do after bedtime. Disclaimer: If you experience anything listed below to a distressing degree, bring it to the attention of a healthcare professional!
Exploding Head Syndrome
Don’t worry—this isn’t nearly as painful as it sounds. A small percentage of people, typically over 50, sometimes hear a loud, imagined noise when they’re falling asleep or waking up. Imagine being on the precipice of sleep and suddenly hearing a gunshot or a thunderclap insider your head. This condition is benign and painless, but can be frightening. It’s unclear what causes it, but it seems to be made worse by stress and irregular sleep schedules.
Practically everybody has experienced that sudden feeling of falling when they’re about to drift off. This involuntary twitch is known as a "hypnic jerk," and though it’s not clear exactly what’s behind it, scientists think that it has something to do with your body adjusting to changes in muscle tone that occur as you transition to sleep. They’re nothing to worry about and seem to occur virtually at random in healthy people, but there’s some evidence that anxiety, caffeine, and an irregular sleep schedule can make them more common.
Muscle paralysis is a normal part of sleep—it’s nature’s way of preventing you from acting out your dreams! However, the body doesn’t always move smoothly through the stages of sleep. Some people experience sleep paralysis, a terrifying phenomenon where you "wake up" conscious but unable to move. What’s happening here is that your mind wakes up before your muscles do. Sleep paralysis is typically accompanied by vivid hallucinations, and sometimes, a sense of choking or pressure on the chest. If you experience this regularly, you may also be suffering from narcolepsy, so frequent sleep paralysis is definitely worth a conversation with your doctor.
Sleepwalking, Sleep Talking, Sleep Driving...
People often think of sleepwalkers wandering around like zombies, and while that’s certainly common, the reality is that people are capable of shockingly complex motor movements while asleep, like cooking and even driving—sometimes for long distances. Regular sleepwalkers should take steps to ensure a safe sleep environment, like putting away sharp objects and locking doors and windows, as well as considering using medication or other forms of sleep therapy.