Why We Need Sleep

What is sleep all about? Why do we need it so bad, why do some people require way more sleep than others, what is sleeps real function, and do we really need 8 hours of sleep a night? Or is this just a convenient function of our anal retentive zeal to measure everything out in 24 hour periods, sleep being arbitrarily allotted to 1/3 of our daily minimum requirement to balance out our days?…

We all know how great we feel after a good nights sleep, we all know how lousy we feel after tossing and turning all night, fighting insomnia and worrying about things we have no control over, or how we turn into walking zombies the day after after a sleepless night, be it from worry, stress, too much partying or whatever….We’ve all been there, done that….The role of sleep is powerful, and not fully understood, even by the most learned academics….

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The good news is that scientists today know a lot more about sleep than they used to. Recent extensive testing of sleeping patients measuring their brain wave activities through electroencephalograph (EEG) technology, where they attach monitors to sleeping patients, has allowed scientists, according to the latest Google updates, to observe and measure electrical patterns and activity produced by the sleeping brain… There seem to be 3 main schools of thought on sleep and it’s necessity for healthy normal human waking activity, and I am going to COPY and PASTE them, something I don’t usually do, for the sake of brevity, and withhold my own personal comments to the end…

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1)Repair and Restoration Theory of Sleep:

“According to the repair and restoration theory of sleep, sleeping is essential for revitalizing and restoring the physiological processes that keep the body and mind healthy and properly functioning. This theory suggests that NREM sleep is important for restoring physiological functions, while REM sleep is essential in restoring mental functions….Support for this theory is provided by research that shows periods of REM sleep increase following periods of sleep deprivation and strenuous physical activity. During sleep, the body also increases its rate of cell division and protein synthesis, further suggesting that repair and restoration occurs during sleeping periods.”

2)Evolutionary Theory of Sleep:

“Evolutionary theory, also known as the adaptive theory of sleep, suggests that periods of activity and inactivity evolved as a means of conserving energy. Support for this theory comes from comparative research of different animal species. Animals that have few natural predators, such as bears and lions, often sleep between 12 to 15 hours each day. On the other hand, animals that have many natural predators have only short periods of sleep, usually getting no more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep each day.”

3)Information Consolidation Theory of Sleep:

“The information consolidation theory of sleep is based on cognitive research and suggests that people sleep in order to process information that has been acquired during the day. In addition to processing information from the day prior, this theory also argues that sleep allows the brain to prepare for the day to come. Some research also suggests that sleep helps cement the things we have learned during the day into long-term memory. Support for this idea stems from a number of sleep deprivation studies demonstrating that a lack of sleep has a serious impact on the ability to recall and remember information.”

Wow, this is all heavy stuff, but these three major theories are the current best theories that all the latest scientific evidence has come up with….

Personally I go along with theory #1: Repair and Restoration Theory of Sleep, because that makes the most sense to me…Sleep is essential to repair and fix our bodies on a daily basis, to recharge our batteries, as it were, and it is a well known fact that the body can heal itself faster when we are involved in major traumatic stress events or accidents if we get plenty of sleep…

This is what hospitals are for, where there is really nothing much else to do except sleep after say a car accident or major illness ravages and weakens our body….The body seems to be able to repair itself internally at a much faster rate when we are asleep, perhaps because all the trivialities and decisions of every day life are minimized or eliminated when we sleep, thus more fully hastening the restorative process.

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I don’t put much stock in Theory #2:Evolutionary Theory of Sleep, because I believe we have evolved so much from the predator/prey mentality that “all species have adapted to sleep during periods of time when wakefulness would be the most hazardous.” While this may be true for animals, I think that this theory is not really applicable to modern day life, although it too can be a jungle!

Perhaps the most tantalizing and thought provoking theory to many is #3: Information Consolidation Theory of Sleep, which posits that sleep allows the brain to prepare for the next day and also suggests that sleep helps cement the things we have learned during the day into long-term memory. But I do not feel deep down that there has been enough solid research to fully back this theory…Sure, we all have heard the phrase “Just sleep on it and let me know what you think in the morning,” but i think Theory #1 can just as easily account for this….

In sum, I think that we are all just genetically designed to NEED sleep to be at our best….Torture techniques have always included sleep deprivation, and we all know the difference a good night’s sleep can make the next day….I have to go back to perhaps the simplest theory, that while sleep is necessary for our brains to function at their maximum, an arbitrary number, like 8 hours of sleep a night, is not gospel, just folklore and habit….

Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time, routinely slept only 4-5 hours a night, and scoffed at the notion that we needed 8 hours sleep a night, comparing it to overindulgence like overeating, although he did believe in “power naps” throughout the day… Famous men like Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon and even modern day success stories like Martha Stewart also believe that sleep is over rated, and that 3-4 hours is all we really need.

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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Martha Stewart attends the 2013 Spark. Ignite Your Network conference at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on April 26, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

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I believe that while sleep is definitely required for our maximum productivity and well being, that we are all mammals who require sleep, that the amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, that “there is no one size that fits all,” like the myth of needing 8 hours of sleep a night…I also believe that power naps or cat naps can be very productive for many people, although they do not work well for me…I generally sleep about 7 hours a night, and that seems to be enough for me….In conclusion, I think we should devote a lot more time and energy to sleep research…

Who knows, maybe we can even one day unravel the real mystery of sleep, and how it unlocks the power of dreams…. Because it seems that right now, nobody knows for sure…. Hmm….Something to sleep on!

Just leave it like it is right now

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