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The Top 10 Sleep Stories of 2018

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/ December 17, 2018
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If you've been paying attention—and we have—2018 was a big year in the annals of sleep. This was the year in which scientists discovered that there is, in fact, such a thing as too much sleep, the country's biggest mattress seller hit the skids, and the debate over school start times made headlines nationwide. It was also the year that saw the rise of JOMO—the joy of missing out—as more and more people discovered the physical and mental benefits of getting a good night's rest.

So, in the spirit of "year in review" lists everywhere, we bring you Saatva's picks for the top 10 sleep stories of 2018: call them the good, the bad, and the snuggly.

#10: Too much sleep is as bad as not enough...

The fact that people don't get enough sleep isn't new. Even though the average American's sleep time increased by 17.3 minutes a night between 2003 and 2016, we're still a bleary-eyed nation. A recent study reported in the journal Sleep found that the percentage of Americans who log less than six hours a night increased from 29% to 33% over the past five years.

So perhaps we shouldn't be alarmed by this bombshell, reported in Science Daily in October: "World's largest sleep study shows too much shut-eye can be bad for your brain" (emphasis ours).

After looking at the bedtime habits of 40,000 people across the globe, then tracking their health outcomes, scientists finally determined the optimal amount of sleep: 7 to 8 hours, no more, no less. That's the amount that prevents the physical and emotional problems that result from too little sleep, as well as the cognitive impairments that come with too much of it. (Here's what happens to your body when you don't get enough sleep.)

#9: ...Unless you live in Hawaii

Hawaii, alone among the states, managed to subvert the typical relationship between sleep and health by being named both 2018's worst state for sleep in terms of duration and quality and also the happiest state. Living in paradise must have something to do with it.

#8: Mattress Firm goes belly-up

October marked the end of an era in the world of sleep when Mattress Firm, the nation's largest mattress retailer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As part of the filing, the chain announced that it would close upwards of 700 of its 3,000-plus stores (so now there will only be one on every other corner) and restructure its business model to account for the ways consumers are shopping now—namely, online.

#7: Dracula was on to something

To celebrate Halloween, Six Flags theme park in St. Louis issued the perfect challenge for those who claim to be able to sleep anywhere: remain in a coffin for 30 hours. Imagine their surprise when more than 28,000 people jumped at the chance. The winner, self-described "vampire enthusiast" Stevi Rogers, walked away with a prize of $300, a pair of season passes, and truly unique bragging rights.

#6: Women sleep better with dogs than with their partners...

This year taught us that it's sometimes better to let sleeping dogs lie. Literally. A recent study, “An Examination of Adult Women's Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing," found that women sleep far better with Fido beside them in bed than with their partners. (To be fair, though, a dog generally takes up less room than a husband.)

#5: ...If they sleep with their partners at all

What good would a news rundown be without a little star power? In May, the actor Rob Lowe raised eyebrows when he told the world (via the Ellen Degeneres show) that he sleeps better without his wife in the bed. Lowe and his spouse of 27 years, Sheryl Berkoff, put a (celebrity) face on the phenomenon of “sleep divorce," when an otherwise happily married couple chooses to sleep apart, whether because of incompatible schedules, one partner's snoring, or other reasons. In Lowe's case, it was because his wife likes to play games on her iPad into the wee hours.

#4: Chimps sleep cleaner than humans

One of the more dismaying facts we learned this year: A chimp's nest is far cleaner than a human's bed. Researchers in Tanzania tested chimpanzee nests for microbial biodiversity and found far less bacteria than in a human's bed. The study's researchers readily admit, however, that their findings weren't really the result of comparing apples to apples (or rather, bananas to bananas). That's because chimps craft a new bed in the treetops every night, and we lazy humans can barely be troubled to change our sheets every month.

#3: Schools solve sleeplessness in Seattle

In spite of opposition from some parents and school administrators, Seattle area schools bumped their start time from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. The goal was to give kids more time to sleep in and see if it improved student outcomes. Guess what? Researchers from the University of Washington found that, on average, students got more than half an hour extra sleep, which correlated to a reduced tardiness rate and a 4.5% increase in average grades. So you could say the extra Zs meant fewer Cs and more Bs. (Learn more about why sleep is an essential school supply.)

#2: Sleep-texting is a thing

More from the teen file: A 2018 study from Villanova University has shown that there's been a rise in instances of texting while asleep. This, according to the team at Villanova, is mainly due to the fact that smartphone use has essentially become so second nature to most young people that, well, they can do it in their sleep. And, in case you were wondering, you can watch the drama of sleep-texting unfold on social media at the hashtag #sleeptexting. This is just another good reason why you should get your phone out of the bedroom.

#1: Sleep remains a mystery

For all that we know about sleep, another year has passed without a clear answer to the essential question of why humans sleep or what exactly is happening in our brains as we slumber. In 2018, Harvard researchers inched a step closer when they identified a collection of neurons in the hypothalamus that form the brain's “sleep switch," responsible for turning consciousness on and off (in mice anyway). But even that discovery falls short of solving the mystery.

"It's sort of embarrassing," Dr. Michael Halassa, a neuroscientist at New York University, told Live Science. "It's obvious why we need to eat, for example, and reproduce ... but it's not clear why we need to sleep." Perhaps that's for the best. After all, if we really understood why we so willingly abandon consciousness—why we make ourselves vulnerable, deny ourselves food, drink, sex, and other pleasures for almost a third of our life, we might never do it at all.

Get your sleep schedule on track for 2019. Here are the best essential oils for sleep.

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