12 Strange Sleep Phenomena And Why They Occur

Sleep is a realm of mysterious occurrences, many of which are still unexplained. Weird things that happen when you sleep can run the gamut from scary to funny to just plain bizarre. When nighttime fears give way to recurring dreams and evil jinns (or scary night hags) who sit on your chest throughout the night, you know you’re in for a wild ride.

Were you aware of the fact that some sleep behaviors shed light on daytime habits like smoking and anxiety? Did you know that a vast portion of the general population talks in their sleep? Do you ever wake up kicking, urinating, or feeling like you just got punched in the face? If so, the good news is that you’re not alone. The bad news is that we’re all alone once REM sleep sets in. To make matters that much worse, most of us are paralyzed in sleep.

Some things that happen at night have strange scientific or spooky paranormal explanations. Here’s a look at dreamland from a scientific perspective with weird sleep facts that are guaranteed to keep you up at night.

  • The Phenomenon: The Flying Dream
    Photo: Pixabay

    The Phenomenon: The Flying Dream

    You rest your head and drift off into a fantastical dreamscape where anything is possible, and suddenly you’re soaring over telephone poles and treetops. You’re not in a plane or hovercraft. Your arms have just suddenly become wings. Many who have experienced the “flying dream” have enjoyed the adventure, so much so that they try to forcibly make it happen again.

    Why It Happens: To alleviate pressure.

    In a Huffington Post article on the topic, psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber explained that the flying dream is often a means of escape from your everyday routine. The ground represents the harsh side of reality. It symbolizes obstacles and expectations. In flight, the dreamer finds freedom by floating over the day-to-day pressures and taking a surreal journey through the clouds.

    Fun Facts About The Flying Dream:

    The flying dream is one of the most common strange sleep occurrences. It has been extensively studied, and, while the most widely held view maintains the idea that it stems from real-life situations that cause the sleeper to experience a desire for a feeling of freedom, scientists in the ‘50s seemed to think it was related to erections. This could be due to the fact that the flying dream is more frequently experienced by men than women. Even today, there are some dream analysts who attribute physical circumstances such as the balance control of the inner ear to dreams of flying sans airplane.

    People who regularly experience this elated state of sleep often speak of different techniques that they use in order to fly. Some flying dreamers like to stay low to the ground, while others claim they have to jump a few times to achieve flight, kind of like Super Mario in his cape. Lucid dreamers make their flying plans in advance, which is also pretty cool. It turns out that flying is the most popular activity among lucid dreamers.

  • The Phenomenon: Somniloquy, AKA Talking In Your Sleep

    Do you spend your nights babbling ridiculous stories that you don’t recall in the morning? Has a loved one ever complained about you talking their ear off in your sleep, or worse, giving up treasured secrets? If so, you suffer from somniloquy, which is medical jargon for talking in your sleep.

    Why It Happens:

    There are several suspected underlying causes for this bizarre – and sometimes hilarious – condition. It is most likely to happen during a shift in REM sleep when the sleeper is momentarily awakened by something while still in the midst of a dream. For this reason, sleep monologues uttered aloud are often mirrors of things that are happening in the dream, making for some pretty nonsensical pillow talk.

    So, are the things a person utters while sleeping true? Nobody really knows for sure, since we dream things that didn't really happen all the time. What you are getting a glimpse of is the sleeper’s wacky subconscious at work.

  • The Phenomenon: Feeling Like You’re Falling And Waking Up On The Floor
    Photo: Pixabay

    The Phenomenon: Feeling Like You’re Falling And Waking Up On The Floor

    When your head hits the pillow, you’re not exactly expecting it to hit the floor later that night, but that’s exactly what happens when the falling dream is accompanied by the hypnic jerk. The end result is that you dream of falling, and you wake up (ouch) right on your bedroom floor.

    Why It Happens:

    This unique experience is the result of not one – but two – strange sleep episodes, the first of which is the notorious falling dream. According to expert opinion, the falling dream is all about a lack of control in your waking life. Something has you on edge, so in your dream, you fall off that edge, with the goal that you’ll resolve this issue.

    The second element is, of course, waking up on the floor, an occurrence that happens when your sleep personality and your awake personality engage in a duel creating involuntary muscle spasms and movements. The technical term for this is the hypnic jerk, and, when it happens, you are literally being scared back out into a state of alertness. Psychologist Frederick Coolidge goes so far as to link the hypnic jerk reaction to evolution, claiming it could be your body’s way of reacting to the possibility that you’re falling out of a tree. Since many of our dreams are now believed to have been passed down by our ancestors through DNA, it makes sense that sleep patterns could have also been passed down.

  • The Phenomenon: Night Hag Syndrome, AKA Sleep Paralysis
    Photo: Fritz Schwimbeck / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Phenomenon: Night Hag Syndrome, AKA Sleep Paralysis

    Did you ever lie down in your bed and find yourself unable to move? Was it almost as if someone, or something, was sitting on your chest? Sleep paralysis, as this condition is called, has several medical explanations, but many believe it could be paranormal.

    Why It Happens:

    Most people cannot move or speak while in a state of REM sleep; however, they are unaware of this because they’re sleeping. Scientists have explained that sleep paralysis occurs when your body is made aware of REM sleep before you wake up due to a change in sleep schedule or medication. Of course, there are also those who believe that Lillith, the Night Hag, the evil jinn of night, is sitting on your chest or maybe even trying to coerce you into sexual positions. 

  • The Phenomenon: Having A Nightmare Before You Fall Asleep

    You’re on the edge of dreamworld when suddenly you see the nightmare coming, a spooky premonition. You’re not even fully asleep yet, and you’re already dreaming. This is known by the psychological community as hypnagogia, and it opens up all sorts of really out there occurrences, ranging from hallucination to lucid dreaming to out-of-body experiences.

    Why It Happens:

    It happens while entering the hypnagogic state, that place where reality melts away, and all that’s left is dreaming. If you happen to feel a nightmarish sensation overcome you during this phase, you’re probably just having a rough transition. While extreme cases of hypnagogia have been linked to narcolepsy, being vividly aware of the sights and sounds of your subconscious before REM hits is usually nothing to worry about. It could even make you more perceptive.

  • The Phenomenon: Exploding Head Syndrome
    Photo: Flickr

    The Phenomenon: Exploding Head Syndrome

    Do you ever wake up to a gunshot or fall asleep to the sound of a gong? If so, you might just suffer from exploding head syndrome, a sleep disorder that is said to affect at least 10% of the population. Women – especially those over 50 – are at the greatest risk of suffering from this situation.

    Why It Happens:

    Scientific speculations range from stress to calcium signaling impairment and minor temporal lobe seizures as possible explanations for this phenomenon. Nobody really knows for sure, but if shots in the night are interrupting your regularly scheduled sleep program, treatments are available that might just help. Some possible treatment options include the consumption of calcium channel blockers and/or antidepressants along with counseling.