You do it every day. You wake up, you eat breakfast, you start to tackle the day, you eat lunch, you tackle the day some more, you eat dinner, you relax a little bit (unless, of course, there is more tackling to do), then you go to bed and go to sleep. Every. Day. But why? You know that you need to eat to provide your body nourishment. Eating helps your body repair itself and gives it energy.
You also know that you breathe to give your body oxygen. How does sleep fit in? Scientists have been studying sleep but, to this day, it is not 100% clear why we need it. Various theories abound, but one thing is clear with or without research...living beings need sleep! A sleep study was done by Marie de Manacéine, a scientist and physician from Russia, where she deprived puppies of sleep. After not getting any sleep, these poor creatures passed on within just days (don’t worry - this study was done before 1900 - such tactics are not being used in science in today’s day and age...I hope).
From hers and other sleep studies, what have we learned to explain the reasons why we need sleep?
Sleep helps us retain information that we learned during the day
It is believed that while we are sleeping, our brains are busy trying to remember the things that we learned. If we don’t sleep, this could make it more difficult to retain what we’ve learned...
Sleep helps us retain our memories, both short term and long term
By sleeping, it gives our brains time to process the events that happened during the day and to store them as short term and long term memories.
Sleep helps us reserve our energy
Our breathing slows down, as does our pulse and our heart rate. This time relaxing may be all we need to replenish ourselves to take on tomorrow. Some researchers have speculated that as humans evolved, sleeping was a time when people didn’t need to be active, such as while they were hunting. Instead their bodies were reserving themselves and storing their energy for the next day. With evolution, humans haven’t lost this.
Sleep is restorative
Repairing and restoring our organs also happens while we are asleep. Whether it’s our immune system, our muscles, or our hormones, the most repair seems to be happening while we aren’t awake.
Sleep helps our brain function properly
When we are sleep deprived, it’s difficult to think and to concentrate. Have you ever driven while drowsy and noticed that it’s just as dangerous (if not more so) as driving while intoxicated? Humans can’t think “straight” when they haven’t gotten enough rest.
Sleep keeps us alive
As illustrated from the puppy study, without sleep, humans can not survive. It’s that simple.
We might not understand exactly why we need sleep, but there is one thing that is certain. It’s a necessity to stay alive. And I’m human, so I am going to stop writing and go get some of that intoxicating slumber. I know my body needs it.