Ah sleep; that strange and wonderful state that forces you to miss the end of so many movies when you’re comfortable on the couch. That thing that teenagers put off for as long as possible before giving in and sleeping through half of the following day. That thing that seems completely elusive when you’re excited or worried. That thing that has boggled scientists for centuries.
What is sleep exactly, and is it really important? Laboratory tests have confirmed that sleep is, as it turns out, very important indeed. The problem comes in the fact that, while scientists agree that it is important, they can’t quite agree on why it is important.
There are several theories surrounding the state of sleep, but all seem to focus on different aspects of sleep. This, however, signifies a bigger takeaway; that sleep is highly important for a great many reasons.
Why Do We Sleep?
If you want to look at it in evolutionary terms, it makes no sense. Animals, particularly those who tend to become food for predators, wouldn’t have evolved a need to sleep. This is because they would be, and are, exceedingly vulnerable whilst unconscious.
So, if animals risk becoming the prey of other animals whilst asleep, the state of sleep must be pretty darn important.
What Science Has Proven Regarding Sleep
While scientists can’t agree on one specific explanation for sleep, they do agree that it has many benefits. Firstly, sleep helps us process memories.
Memories are essentially formed over years. While the event that causes the creation of a memory can happen quickly, the development of that memory takes place after the fact. Sleep has been proven to stabilise and enhance the memory processes necessary for the compounding of memories, which, as we know, are an important part of our social and professional lives.
Secondly, sleep helps balance our emotions. A lack of sleep increases the chances or irritability while chronic insomnia has been linked with depression and anxiety.
But, more than just mood, sleep influences every major system in the body. A lack of sleep can affect the metabolic, cardiovascular, immune, and reproductive systems too.
The fact that sleep is so healthy for us has essentially changed the way that scientists look at it. They have stopped trying to find its single greatest benefit and have realised that it is necessary simply because of its many benefits. One particular sleep researcher has said that scientists no longer look at sleep and ask what function it serves. Instead, they have to ask if there is any part of the body that isn’t improved by sleep. And, as things stand, the answer is a resounding, “No.”
Image credit: https://www.psychologies.co.uk/body/the-sleep-guru.html