Are you an active sleeper? This could be why
Many people will have experienced unusual nocturnal behaviour at some point in their lives, whether that’s hearing a friend or partner talking weirdly in their sleep, or waking up in the kitchen with no idea how you got there.
This behaviour is usually harmless, and can often be hilarious for those watching, but what exactly is it that makes people do these strange activities in their sleep? We spoke to sleep expert, Dr. Neil Stanley of The Sleep Council, to find out:
Sleepwalking is what we refer to as a parasomnia, or undesired behaviour, that occurs during deep sleep. This happens because during sleep parts of your brain can be asleep while others are awake, meaning that if a particular part of the brain wakes up, then it is possible to carry out the behaviour for which that part of the brain is responsible, without the individual being conscious of it.
Sleepwalkers are usually seen doing routine activities, but because the sleepwalker is unaware of their actions, they can appear strange or occur in the wrong place. This might include urinating in the wardrobe, moving furniture around, or climbing out of a window.
When they do wake up, they can be very confused, and in certain situations, this could be dangerous to both themselves and to others, hence the advice not to wake a sleepwalker. If they are not in danger, there is no need to wake them, so simply guide them back to bed, but watch out for the furniture in the dark!
There is a strong genetic link to sleepwalking and your chance of doing it can double if your parents had sleepwalking episodes as a child or as an adult. Most sleepwalkers will begin to experience the behaviour as a child, although rarely it can begin to occur during adulthood.
Sleep talking is another type of parasomnia, and it’s pretty self-explanatory, involving talking whilst asleep. The complexity of what is said can range from complete gibberish to complicated conversation or monologues that make sense. Like sleepwalking, sleep talking is partial arousal of one part of the brain whilst the rest is still asleep.
Anyone can experience sleep talking, but the condition is more common in males and children. Sleep-talkers are not aware of their speech, and so their voice may sound different when they are sleeping compared to normal.
Sleep talking can be brought on by anything that disturbs or lightens sleep, such as stress or depression, sleep deprivation, alcohol and medicines, amongst others. Like most of the parasomnias, anything that improves the quality of sleep can reduce the occurrence of sleep talking.
Although not harmful, sleep talking can cause embarrassment and can annoy a bed partner, particularly if you say the wrong thing or ‘confess’ to something. The good news is that research has shown that the disclosure of secrets during sleep is very rare.
Everyone dreams during sleep, and this can occur up to five times a night. There is no accepted scientific definition for what constitutes a ‘vivid’ dream. Although we have dream-like events throughout our sleep, our long narrative dreams occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
The content of our dreams, whether good or bad, is made up of anything we know or can imagine. This means that we do not necessarily have to have experienced traumatic or stressful events for us to have stressful or traumatic dreams. You can only remember a dream if you wake during, or very soon after, the dream.
The vividness of a dream seems to be related to the emotional content and/or the bizarreness of the dream. It’s likely that dreams arousing strong emotions, either positive or negative, or which are particularly bizarre are more likely to be remembered.
Vivid dreams are normally nothing to worry about. Try to eliminate sleep deprivation by practising good sleep hygiene. You could also try mindfulness or meditation to calm the body and mind before bedtime. However, if your vivid dreams are causing you emotional distress or physical problems, you should see your GP.
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