You might be unconscious while you’re sleeping, but your body and mind are far from inactive. Twitches, visions, sounds—all of them can add up to a lot of activity at night, some of it completely perplexing.
In the field of sleep medicine, some of these sleep-related quirks lead to the question, “Is this normal?” Let’s look at some of the more common scenarios.
The Hypnic Jerk
“Just as I go to sleep, I feel like I’m falling and my whole body jerks.” Certainly most of you have experienced this phenomenon, which can be strong enough to wake you up again, a la the movie Inception. This technical term for this involuntary jolt is a hypnic jerk, and two out of three adults experience it at some point in their lives. The sensation of falling is sometimes accompanied by visual imagery of falling, such as tripping on a step or falling off a ledge. It may even be accompanied by a vocalization or yelp, which can be embarrassing if you’ve fallen asleep in the middle of a boring meeting. No one is quite sure what causes the hypnic jerk, but it is incredibly common. Is it normal? Yes, it is considered a normal variation of sleep, so long as it doesn’t lead to insomnia.
The Conversationalist — Sleep Talking
Sleep talking is another common sleep occurrence, and once again, it occurs in two out of three adults. For some it is the occasional random word or phrase during sleep, while for others, it is an all-out conversation. But just a small amount of talking, puts you once again in the “normal” category. People often search for meaning in their bed partner’s sleep talk, but don’t be too upset if you hear something disturbing. Sleep talking has not been shown to reflect actual memories or emotions.
The Dream Skeptic
Dreams have a magical way of seeming real. Say, for example, you dream you are late for an airline flight, so you decide to flap your arms and fly to the destination on your own power. Sure—seems reasonable during the dream. No matter how unbelievable the situation seems upon waking, while in the dream, we rarely doubt the altered reality we are experiencing. However, people sometimes report they are aware that they’re dreaming and are actually able to control parts of the dream. This is known as lucid dreaming. Realizing you are in a dream is completely normal—and it can even be desirable, if you’re looking to shake a stubborn nightmare.
The Double Dreamer
Imagine you awaken from a dream, glance at your alarm clock, get out of bed and then weird things start happening: the mirror appears to move, or your living room has turned into a carnival. Then you wake up again to find yourself still in bed. This time you are actually awake and back to reality. You’ve just experienced a dream within a dream, and no, it’s not just the work of Hollywood fiction. This phenomenon is normal.
The Freight Train
Snoring can be a nuisance for any bed partner or roommate. When we sleep, the muscles that hold our airways open relax. That means the areas in the back of our mouths and throats are not as wide as while we are awake. With this relaxation comes a narrower airway, and the turbulent airflow as we breathe can lead to snoring. While snoring in and of itself is not abnormal, it can be a sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition in which not enough air gets to the lungs causing frequent awakenings and poor sleep, as well as an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. About half of adults that snore have sleep apnea. So if you find your bed partner constantly elbowing you to turn over, and you feel like you just can’t get a good night’s rest, consider talking to your doctor about sleep apnea.
Have you ever awakened in the morning and found yourself unable to budge? It’s as if you are completely stuck in your own body, and only your eyes will move. This usually only lasts a few seconds, but can last longer and can be quite frightening. This phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis. The cause is usually sleep deprivation, but in rare cases can be a sign of a sleep disorder like narcolepsy. However, if this occurs while you are sleep deprived, and you have no sleep difficulties otherwise, it likely isn’t something to worry about. Just make sure you don’t skimp on sleep!
Sleep is meant to be relatively boring, but sometimes our brains decide to disrupt the boredom with a little bit of excitement. Although the disruptions we experience may seem unusual, thankfully they’re often not unhealthy or abnormal.