A long time ago, in a far away land, we would ask doctors and scientists if we had questions about our health. Then the Internet happened.
Now, we can get answers instantaneously by visiting a little site called Google.
This week, we turned to everyone’s go-to information source to find out what people want to know about sleep. Using data from Google’s Keyword Planner, we identified your most burning questions.
Then we went old school and asked doctors, professors, and scientists: What results should come up? Check out the explanations and advice they had to offer. We know you’ve been wondering.
How to sleep
Searched 145,200 times a year
“We all know how to sleep, but the 24/7 pace of modern life causes us to forget. As sleep is the nexus between mind and body, it is an especially vulnerable process. More and more evidence indicates that sleep regulates all physical and psychological functioning. Sleeping well might even save or extend one’s life. In order to get restful, health-promoting sleep, we need to reclaim sleep. Put aside your electronics, remove the clock, keep regular bedtimes and rise times, and resist the urge to have highly charged conversations [before bed]. Build a separation between daytime and bedtime. Once in bed, do slow, mindful breathing and focus on being in a special place (e.g., floating on a lake, walking on a favorite beach). And never go to bed unless you’re sleepy — regardless of what the clock says.” – Dr. Ross Levin, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Behavioral Sleep Specialist
Why can’t I sleep
Searched 266,400 times a year
“You are not alone! Insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, is very common and affects up to 30% of Americans. The good news is that insomnia is very treatable once you identify the cause. Do you have any medical conditions such as arthritis, neck pain, or back pain that’s keeping you from sleeping? Are you taking any drugs, such as antidepressants, that can interfere with sleep? Checking in with your doctor about medical conditions or medications is important. Then, think about your habits. Limit coffee to the morning, turn off your devices at least an hour before bed, and limit alcohol intake. Physical exercise can also help you sleep, and relieves stress. Schedule some time in the evening to write down your stressors and how you will deal with them.” – Dr. Beth Malow, Professor of Neurology and Director of Sleep Disorders Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
How long can you go without sleep
Searched 97,200 times a year
“The easy experimental answer to this question is 264 hours (about 11 days). In 1965, Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old high school student, set this apparent world-record for a science fair. Several other research subjects have remained awake for eight to 10 days in carefully monitored experiments. None of these individuals experienced serious medical, neurological, physiological or psychiatric problems. On the other hand, all of them showed progressive and significant deficits in concentration, motivation, perception and other higher mental processes as the duration of sleep deprivation increased. Randy Gardner was ‘awake’ but basically cognitively dysfunctional at the end of his ordeal.” – As reported by Dr. J. Christian Gillin, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego for Scientific American
“Overall, the jury is out on just how long a human could ever stay awake, but perhaps that’s a good thing. Acknowledging the injury people might cause to themselves through intentional sleep deprivation, the Guinness Book of Records stopped keeping track of this particular superlative last decade.” – As reported by Adam Hadhazy, Freelance Science Writer for the BBC
Searched 34,800 times a year
“Snoring can be a major problem. The first steps to improve snoring are avoiding sleeping on your back, losing weight if you are overweight, and avoiding alcohol within about 3 hours of bedtime. When these basic recommendations are not enough, surgery can be an effective option. Snoring typically comes from vibration of the soft palate, [found at] the back of the roof of the mouth. Snoring surgery addresses this by stiffening the soft palate. Two common approaches are the pillar procedure or palate radiofrequency. Appropriate patients should expect about an 80% improvement in snoring with surgery. To find out if you are a candidate, you should see a surgeon — ideally one who is focused on snoring surgery.” – Dr. Eric Kezirian, Professor of Otolaryngology at USC Keck School of Medicine
Sleeping too much
Searched 118,800 times a year
“The idea of sleeping too much can [result from] not getting quality sleep or of suffering with another problem. A lack of quality sleep could be due to problems like obstructive sleep apnea, which are recurrent stoppages of breathing that occur throughout the night. Other problems that cause people to sleep excessively [include] narcolepsy, which is a neurological disorder where people feel sleepy no matter how much they sleep. Depression or chronic medical conditions are often-overlooked causes for sleeping too much. If excessive daytime sleepiness remains despite adequate sleep at night, then [you should seek] evaluation from a sleep specialist. One thing that can [help] is getting 20 minutes of sunlight as close to wake up time as possible.” – Dr. Daniel Barone, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College’s Center for Sleep Medicine and author of “Let’s Talk About Sleep,” which comes out in January
Best way to sleep
Searched 52,800 times a year
“For the best chance of a peaceful night’s sleep, make your bedroom a safe haven to rest and recovery. It should be quiet, dark, comfortable and cool. Research has shown that using calming fragrances, like lavender, may help to aid restful sleep. And just as there are good standing and sitting postures, there is also a great sleeping posture; one that ensures your body is in the midline position with no twists or turns. This can make the difference between a good and bad night’s sleep. Make sure that whatever position you sleep in, your body is supported whilst maintaining the natural curves of the spine to minimize stresses and strains.” – Sammy Margo, Physiotherapist and author of “The Good Sleep Guide” and “The Good Sleep Guide for Kids”
Why do we sleep
Searched 64,800 times a year
“Scientists have not revealed a single answer to this question as sleep impacts multiple systems. We do know that contrary to the idea that sleep is a time when the body and brain ‘shut down,’ sleep is an active process in which plenty of restoration, strengthening, and processing occurs. Some researchers suggest a specific function of sleep is to consolidate memories — meaning that the processing and storing of information received during the day, occurs during sleep. But, we also know that deficient sleep can lead to multiple deleterious outcomes including impaired cognitive function, increased risk of cardio-metabolic disease, and compromised immune function. This suggests that adequate sleep is needed for both central (brain) and peripheral (body) systems to perform optimally.” – Erin C. Hanlon, Ph.D. and Research Assistant Professor at University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine
Do fish sleep
Searched 397,200 times a year
“The nature of fish ‘sleep’ is an area of active research. While fish do not sleep in the same way that land mammals sleep, most fish do rest. Research shows that fish may reduce their activity and metabolism while remaining alert to danger. Some fish float in place, some wedge themselves into a secure spot in the mud or coral, and some even locate a suitable nest. These periods of ‘suspended animation’ may perform the same restorative functions as sleep does in people.” – The National Ocean Service
Why do we dream
Searched 145,200 times a year
“I believe that dreams are just thinking in a very different biochemical state. The longest standing evolutionary function of dreaming may belong to some biochemical repair function, which REM serves. REM is the stage of sleep in which most dreams occur. We share this sleep stage with most mammals, so it’s been evolving long before humans or even primates. But for something that’s been around as long as REM, nature tends to layer on function after function. We’re likely making use of REM to continue working on waking concerns. Since areas associated with visual imagination are activated and areas associated with censorship and conventional wisdom are damped down in REM, our dreams are very visual and not very logical. [Dreams] tend to make the most breakthroughs in problems where [we need to] think outside the box.” – Deirdre Barrett, Psychology Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of “The Committee of Sleep”
“Scientists have yet to reach a consensus regarding concrete reasons for dreaming. No single theory has ever been proven or generally accepted by the scientific community, giving way instead to a continually elusive definite purpose of dreaming: dreams as illustrations of our unconscious desires, dreams as a combination of conscious and unconscious desires, dreams as products of neurons randomly firing, dreams as a reaction to external stimuli, dreams as a spiritual journey, and dreams as a means of relieving stress.” – The students of Dr. William C. Dement, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine and the Division Chief of the Stanford’s Division of Sleep
The Double-Edged Sword of Using Search Engines for Sleep Advice
About 177,600 people a year are so desperate that they just type “no sleep” into the search bar. 64,800 others hope that an existential crisis could help them get some shuteye, asking Google “what is sleep?”
The web empowers people to make informed decisions about their healthcare. At the same time, it’s difficult for a layman to identify what they need from the tremendous volume of information available. It’s important that searchers know when to take their questions offline and see a professional — even if that means getting out of bed.