Sleep is such a peaceful thing, where you get to rest and relax after a hard day. However, while you might be sleeping, your body is up to some pretty weird stuff. How the body regenerates during sleep is definitely miraculous and fascinating, but that doesn't make it any less bizarre and gross.
We all generally known that what sleep does to your body is helpful and beneficial to your waking self. But sleeping itself is a rather tumultuous process. Your skin begins to fall off, your mouth fills with bacteria, and you even become paralyzed. And these are only the normal things that can happen - the abnormal stuff is positively cringe-worthy! This all might sound impossible, but it happens to you every night, as soon as you begin to drift off to dream land.
What happens when you fall asleep is generally not harmful - and better than the alternative, sleep deprivation - but is still pretty nasty when you take the time to think about it.
Let's face it, our mouths are pretty gross, even when we're awake. Saliva goes through your mouth in order to redistribute and cleanse bacteria that's in there. Your saliva has antibacterial compounds that really can flush out your mouth well, but at night time, that's when things really get wild.
Your swallowing helps regulate levels of saliva in your mouth, but unfortunately, your swallowing reflex isn't exactly active while you sleep. It's so relaxed, in fact, that sometimes your saliva builds up so much that it spills out of your mouth and you drool in your sleep. However, much of the time the mouth also gets very dry, which means that your saliva isn't flushing out the bacteria in there. Instead, bacteria is free to grow and thrive, so each night, you have a literal bacteria party on your teeth, tongue, gums, and even lips. This is what often causes morning breath, or that weird coat of film on your tongue.
You may have heard of sleep paralysis before, but your body becoming paralyzed doesn't just happen to people with this often frightening condition. When we sleep, we hit a point of rest called REM, and during this phase, out body becomes unable to move. You freeze up all over in complete muscle paralysis, with only your eyes able to move. People with sleep paralysis just happen to experience while they are still conscious, which can be an incredibly terrifying experience.
But why do we do this? Apparently it's done to keep us safe. Since dreams occasionally make us move around if they're particularly vivid, we could potentially hurt ourselves. To keep us from harming ourselves and others, our brain produces two strong chemicals which mix together and send signals to our body. That signal is: Freeze. Now. No moving whatsoever. Luckily, it's short-lived.
You may notice when you wake up that there's some dry or even wet gunk at the corners of your eyes. It's easy enough to brush away, and doesn't really cause you any harm. However, what you're experiencing is just the tail end of a pretty gross process that happens every night while you sleep.
The average person's eyes have three layers over the surface of the eye, which include a mucus membrane, water based lubrication, and a layer over the other two called meibum. This layer is made up of oils and sebum, which is a fatty waxy substance that can lubricate and waterproof surfaces. At night, the meibum layer and the water layer mix gently together to keep the eye moist, and get rid of things that upset it, like dust and dirt. To do this, the meibum cools during the night and becomes thick, white, and gunky. This leads to a crust at the corner of the eye as that meibum is moved to the edges, made up of excess mucus, oil, and dust. By the time we wake up, it's usually dry and powdery.
This might sound like no big deal, but it can actually be a serious problem. When you sleep, your breathing slows and changes, and your throat gets more narrow in response as your muscles begin to relax. For certain people, the throat gets too narrow, and this is what causes heavy snoring. This is exacerbated by issues with the tonsils, sicknesses that gum up the throat, or clogged sinuses.
But here's where it gets potentially dangerous. In some rare instances, the airway can get so narrow that it briefly closes altogether. This can cause sleep apnea, a condition where the airway briefly closes and breathing periodically starts and stops for periods of time. In some occasional and severe scenarios, sleep apnea can help lead to someone's demise.