Why do we need sleep?

Introduction

All of us have an urge to take a nap post lunch to feel fresh and continue our work with the same vigour. There are many great people like Thomas Edison who think sleeping to be a waste of time. Some of the great thinkers and many famous people like Napoleon and Florence nightingale used to sleep for about four hours. While there are some people who don’t feel fresh even after 7 hours of sleep. If we are sleep deprived even for a single day attention and concentration decreases. We become sloppier. Now the basic question is that why do we need to sleep and why there is so much individual variation among the individuals regarding time for sleep.

Why do we sleep?

We all know that just like we need to breathe and eat for living likewise we need to sleep to be able to live. Sleeping is very essential for our existence as sleeping helps to maintain the normal levels of mental skills such as speech, memory, innovative thinking, concentration and attention. Sleep actually plays an important role in development of brain and cognitive skills.

During the day there are numerous activities that we are involved in. While we are asleep our brain rewinds whole of the activities of the day and forms and reconnects new and old memory traces. This gives brain time to re-consolidate the information. This helps to re-consolidate your memory and transformation of short term memory into long term memory.

There are many researches that are being carried out and scientists believe that sleeping is the time what brain utilizes to clear off all the unnecessary and unwanted information. If this information weren’t cleaned our brain would have an excessive overload of information. When we are awake our brain functions constantly and stores all the information flowing around us. This creates piles of information in our brain which if not cleaned would create a memory overload on our brain. Our brain has a unique way of cleaning itself.

Brain’s activity has a different pattern of functioning when a person is asleep and awake. When the person is awake there is information accumulation and storage whereas when one sleeps the cleaning and restoration of information takes place.

  1. One hypothesis states that when we sleep the clearing process of brain is maximum as the neurons or the brain cells shrink half to their size and cerebrospinal flows freely and all the metabolic wastes such as free radicals are washed down to liver for elimination.

    When metabolism occurs there is production of metabolic waste products and free radicals. These free radicals cause damage to the cells. When metabolism is fast and when we are awake there is increased production of free radicals. When we sleep the reparative process starts and cellular repair also starts, sleeping helps in maintenance of cellular function. This maintenance is supported by the fact that free radical formation also slows down when we sleep.

    This is the reason that animals with higher metabolic rate sleep more as they have higher free radicals formation which causes more cellular damage and hence they require extra time for replenishment and maintenance and therefore these animals sleep more.

  2. Another hypothesis suggests that our body requires and utilizes a lot of energy for all the metabolic processes while we are awake. We acquire this energy from Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the powerhouse of the body. When we are engaged in activities the energy requirement is met by lysis of ATP which yields energy and produces adenosine as by-product. When the levels of adenosine rises in body, signals are sent to brain which sends signals to other parts of the brain that makes us drowsy and we want to sleep.

There are many other researches that are being carried out and scientists are still trying to find out the gene that regulates the functioning of sleep.

What will happen if you won’t sleep?

Now we know why we sleep and why is sleep so important to us. Now the other question that pops our mind is what would happen if we are sleep deprived and don’t get adequate sleep. There are many effects of sleep deprivation that are seen on our mind and our body. Let’s have a look over them one by one.

  • If you think being awake for whole night before an exam is a good idea and you’ll be able to perform better than you are probably wrong as overnight wakefulness affects your brain’s ability to function. You will have a decreased concentration and attention span. Added to it missing a complete night sleep will make you sloppy, irritable and forgetful.

  • If you still don’t give rest to your body and continue being awake. The part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected and it causes an overall fall in performance.

  • Since the sleep deprivation has an effect on your concentration and attention span researches also shows that sleep-deprived individuals often have difficulty in responding to rapidly changing situations and making rational judgements. In real life situations, the consequences are grave and can lead to disastrous outcomes.

Sleep deprivation has an effect on emotional and physical health as well. If you are sleep deprived there are chance that you will be in high stress, have an increased blood pressure and will definitely put on weight as the chemicals that are play a pivotal role in controlling appetite and weight gain are released during sleep.

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