If you’ve ever gone without sleep for any amount of time, you probably realize that the lack of sleep can affect you in various ways.
Extreme tiredness can cause you to think and say things you wouldn’t normally say and can take even the happiest person and turn them into a cranky monster. Adequate sleep certainly makes us feel better mentally and physically.
Have you ever thought about why we need to sleep? What’s the big deal about sleep? Why do our brains need to go “unconscious” each evening? This question has been studied by many researchers and there are several theories on the topic. Sleeping is necessary just like eating is necessary to nourish the body. If you don’t feed your body, you’ll get quite hungry and if you don’t get adequate sleep, you’ll get quite sleepy.
Scientists have studied the question of why we need sleep and have come up with various theories. One way they tackle the subject is to deprive people and animals from sleep and study the results. Despite much research though, there is not a lot of concrete evidence as to why we need sleep.
Inactivity Theory: This theory asserts that we learned to sleep as a survival function many years ago when man slept outside where they were vulnerable and subject to harm. This theory, sometimes called the evolutionary theory, suggests that man and animals learned that when they were still at night, they were less likely to be harmed by predators and have accidents. There are those that counter this theory, stating that it would actually be safer to remain awake at night to ward off predators should they come.
Energy Conservation Theory: This theory asserts that the reason we need to sleep is so the body can reduce its energy demand during the evening, which makes it convenient since evening is not an optimal time to search for food. As most of us know, while we sleep our metabolism slows down, which helps conserve energy resources.
Restorative Theory: This theory asserts that while we sleep, our bodies restore what we’ve lost while we’re awake. It is a time for the body to rejuvenate. This theory is fairly popular and in recent years, some studies have been conducted showing that when animals are completely deprived of sleep, their immune systems are weakened and they can actually die from sleep deprivation. It is during sleep that major restorative functions are performed.
Cognitive functions are also rejuvenated during sleep. Haven’t you ever noticed that after a good night’s sleep your thought life is better? You might be so tired in the evening and your thoughts swing to the negative side, but when you wake up fully rested, you find yourself feeling more optimistic and this is due to your cognitive function being restored while you sleep.
University of Rochester researchers state that one reason for sleep is that the brain needs it in order to survive. They assert that while we sleep, the brain dumps all of the junk that we accumulate while we’re awake. Researcher Maiken Nedergaard states, “In fact, the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.”
I think that each evening we could all benefit from such a “brain dump” of any toxicity we’ve encountered throughout the day. Perhaps this is one reason we tend to feel more optimistic in the morning when we’ve gotten plenty of sleep.
“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.”
― David Benioff, City of Thieves
How would you rate your sleep patterns on a scale of 1 to 10?
If you struggle with getting to sleep or sleeping soundly, what actions can you take in order to resolve such a problem?
from the Harvesting Happiness blog archives, originally published July 3, 2014