10 Things You Didn't Know About Sleep
1. Your alarm is set for 6 a.m.—why do you wake up at 5:59 a.m.? The body's internal alarm clock, which enables some people to wake up naturally at the time they desire, is triggered by the stress hormone adrenocorticotropin. The levels of this hormone begin to rise an hour or two before an expected wake-up call, to prepare the body gradually for the stress of waking up.
2. A six-year study of a million adults showed that people who get only six to seven hours of sleep a night have a lower death rate than those who get eight hours.
3. In 1964, 17-year-old Randy Gardner stayed awake for 264 hours and 12 minutes, the officially recognized world record. He then slept for 15 hours—not a record, but not bad.
4. In a gesture of integration with the European Union, Spain has launched a campaign to eliminate the tradition of siestas, or afternoon naps.
5. Thanks in part to their afternoon naps, Spaniards sleep an average of 40 minutes less per night than other Europeans. Spain also has the highest rate of workplace accidents in the EU and the third lowest productivity rate.
6. A 2002 study by Oxford University researchers concluded, brilliantly, that the traditional practice of counting sheep is an ineffective cure for insomnia. The mental activity is so boring that other problems and concerns inevitably surface.
7. A Muslim couple in India is being forced to split up after the husband uttered the word "talaq," the Arabic word for divorce, three times in his sleep. According to Muslim law, the "triple talaq" is an actual divorce.
8. Dreaming is related to bursts of electrical activity that blow through the brain stem every 90 minutes during REM sleep. Over a lifetime, an average person spends more than six years dreaming, clocking more than 136,000 dreams in all. But nobody knows why we dream.
9. Mattresses have an average life span of eight to 10 years. They grow some nasty stuff in that time; one study links mattress bacteria to sudden infant death syndrome.
10. Somniphobia is the fear of sleep.