If you're a parent, you already know that there are a whole host of common potential dangers facing babies and kids whenever they go to sleep (and just about every other time of day). But far too many adults don't realize that they also face some dangerous things that can happen when you're asleep. Yes, drifting off to dreamland isn't always safe.
When it comes down to it, a lot of people don't know all that much about sleep. You probably know that you should get somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night and that sleep is important for your health, but how much do you know beyond that? Probably not a lot.
Most nights, for most people, are relatively uneventful, sleep-wise. But for others, there are serious, potentially deadly issues that can crop up when they lay down to go to bed each night. You could even have a condition that could seriously affect your sleep and health and not even know it.
Minimizing the potential risks that these — and other — common sleep dangers could present is relatively simple. You just need to be well-informed about what you might be up against and what you can do to address them.
1. Sleep Apnea
Carolyn Schur, a sleep expert and consultant, tells Romper that sleep apnea is perhaps the most dangerous of all of the sleep disorders because it is common and can affect your health in so many ways. Schur says that when someone has sleep apnea — of which there are two forms — they briefly stop breathing, which, depending on how bad it is and how frequently it happens, can be extremely dangerous.
"I actually had a stroke from this and that got me into sleep research," Tony Warren, a sleep expert, tells Romper by email. "For everyone that realizes they have an apnea problem and get help, there are four people that do not get diagnosed." Both the person with sleep apnea and anyone sharing a bed with them will be affected by this. It can majorly disrupt your sleep and your partner's, which means no one is resting well.
Sleep apnea is treatable, however, so if you or your partner gasp for breath while sleeping, talking to a doctor might help alleviate those issues, help you sleep safer, and ease your partner's concerns.
2. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is rare — Schur estimates that it affects about one to two percent of the population — but it can be extremely dangerous both for the person who has it as well as for anyone sharing a bed with that person.
"REM stage sleep is associated with sleeping and naturally the body responds with irregular breathing, high blood pressure, and a loss of muscle tone," sleep and wellness expert Parinaz Samimi tells Romper in an email exchange. "For people experiencing the disorder, there is an absence of the paralysis, hence resulting in intense physical response to vivid, violent dreams. Such responses can be as severe as punching, kicking, jumping out of bed, and tackling furniture." Samimi recommends reaching out to a doctor for treatment due to the severity of the condition.
Schur says that this disorder can cause the person to act violently towards anyone sharing a bed with them, and can cause serious physical harm for both people. You might not even know you have it and it can be difficult to test for, as it may just happen periodically, but Schur recommends trying to effectively manage your stress in order to also help manage the disorder.
3. Heart Attacks
According to Schur, you're most likely to suffer a heart attack in the early morning hours when your blood pressure rises to wake up your body. That's a scary situation, especially if you have other health issues that could make the situation worse.
According to Schur, sleepwalking is more common in kids than adults, as kids tend to outgrow sleepwalking after awhile. Some adults, however, never grew out of it as kids and still struggle with sleepwalking as adults. Although you could certainly injure yourself while sleepwalking, Schur says it's less common than it is for kids. That being said, as Samimi notes, sleepwalking can refer to more dangerous activities like driving a car. So if you suspect that you're struggling with sleepwalking or discover that you are, it's best to have a conversation with your doctor, who can help you determine the cause and the best treatment plan.
5. Bed Bugs
Bed bugs tend to bite and pose a greater threat when you're in bed sleeping because you're fairly defenseless against them. According to WebMD, bed bugs don't transmit diseases to the people that they bite, which is the good news. The bad news is that bed bug bites usually go from painless and hardly noticeable to itchy, red splotches. They can bite any skin that's exposed while you're sleeping, so you could end up with bites all over your body. The only real way of knowing if you're dealing with a bed bug infestation is to track down those little buggers yourself and then call an exterminator to get rid of them once and for all.
6. Ignoring Advice About Treatments Or Medications
It's usually a good idea to follow your doctor's advice when you're receiving treated for a medical issue. This includes overnight and during your nighttime routine. "The most common danger for sleep I see in adults is not adhering to their doctor's orders for their medications and treatments," certified sleep consultant Christine Stevens tells Romper by email. She continues:
For instance, I have seen clients that would not wear their CPAP machine because they didn't like the noise. The bad part is that the CPAP machine ensures you still breathe while sleep and not wearing it won't help you if you stop breathing.
Although there may be instances where you feel justified in going against medical advice, it could be dangerous if you do so while you're sleeping.
7. Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)
If you ever spend time watching the minutes tick by all night or consistently wake up feeling like you just aren't getting quality sleep, you might actually have a condition called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). In an email exchange with Romper, dentist Dr. Nancy Gill says that some people who were previously diagnosed with other conditions like Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome might actually be misdiagnosed and have UARS instead. "The body is trying to get air, but it struggles," Gill says. Talk to your doctor or another healthcare professional. UARS can usually be detected and diagnosed with a sleep study.
8. Rapid Heart Rate
If you're feeling extra anxious during the day or regularly exhausted, even though you're sleeping, it might be because of fluctuating heart rate, which keeps the parasympathetic nervous system from activating. "If not, our bodies cannot 'rest and digest,'" Gill says. "Instead, if the sympathetic nervous system is active, our minds and our bodies are in 'fight or flight' mode. During sleep, we need our brains and our organs to recover from the day. If it doesn't happen, one may feel excessive anxiety, always on edge, and not be able to perform their best." Your body is always on the alert, which prevents you from ever getting the chance to get that restorative sleep your body needs.
9. Feeling Vulnerable
One danger while sleeping that people often overlook is simply that humans are vulnerable when they sleep. Fires, break-ins, sexual assaults and more can all happen while people are sleeping, Schur says. You keep your sense of hearing intact while you're sleeping, but Schur says, it's possible that something bad could happen before you're able to fully rouse yourself from your slumber. Double-checking doors, windows, smoke detector batteries, and the like could help you rest easier.
10. Sleep Paralysis
If you sleep on your back, you may have experienced this fairly terrifying sensation before. In an interview with Everyday Health, registered respiratory therapist Kathleen Meyer said that sleep paralysis is most likely to occur when you're sleeping on your back. Sleep paralysis, according to Everyday Health, is a condition in which your mind wakes up, but your body is incapable of moving. This can happen either when you're going to sleep or waking up and can last for up to a couple of minutes. Talking to your doctor and sticking to a consistent bedtime routine can help prevent these scary moments.
Sleeping more safely and more soundly relies on knowing where the potential dangers lie. Knowing what you're up against can help you do all you can to prevent them.