Why Do We Need Sleep?

Why Do We Need Sleep?

November 13, 2017 Science News 0

We all need sleep. We’ve always needed sleep. But after thousands of generations of people, we still don’t know why we need sleep.

All over the world, after the sun sets, people go to bed and wake up refreshed the next morning. If you don’t get enough sleep, you feel tired and exhausted, and you crave more sleep. But how does sleep “replenish” your body?

Scientists have begun to unravel the effects of sleep on your brain: it lets you recover from the long day that you’ve had. According to BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh, during the day, your brain cells continuously build connections to other parts of the brain that are responsible for your active functioning[1]. Then, while you’re in bed at night, sleep allows for your body to strengthen the important connections that were built during the day, while discarding ones that aren’t as important.

Although the importance of sleep is widely recognized, things get even more interesting with the lack of sleep. A study performed by the University of Surrey – Guildford has found that genes that are associated with inflammation increase in activity when adequate sleep is not achieved[1]. The researchers inferred that the human body was put on alert for wounds, even though there were none to be found. These symptoms, including increased inflammation, can lead to chronic diseases and decreased immunity.

A lot of these findings can be supported by the accounts of Randy Gardner, a high-school student who went without sleep for 11 days without stimulants, is one of the longest documented cases where somebody went without sleep[2]. As early as the 2nd day, Randy struggled to keep focus, and he couldn’t repeat simple tongue twisters. By day three,  he became moody and uncoordinated, and on the 5th day he experienced hallucinations. In fact, Guinness has stopped listing new records for going without sleep to stop further attempts. A man in China even died when trying to replicate Randy Gardner and his dangerous feat[3].

With all this information about sleep and its effects on the human body, people still can’t figure out why we need sleep, as opposed to other recovery methods. When asked why we needed sleep in a Tech Insider interview, Patrick Fuller, an associate professor at Harvard, said, “You’d think I’d have an answer for that, right? I’ve been doing this for a while and I can’t answer that question.”[4] Understanding how sleep works could be the next frontier in human development. Most humans spend about 25 years sleeping[5], and if we find a way to reduce that time without affecting our health, we can use the time saved to pursue other endeavors.

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