Sleep has been a mystery to many scientist for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. There have been many theories, from early thoughts of inactivity to newer ideas about brain plasticity. However, there has never been a consensus within the scientific community as to why animals, not just humans, sleep. The only thing that they all can agree on is that all life forms on this earth, in some way or another, sleep.
There are many theories as to why we sleep. One of the earliest thoughts was that of evolution and inactivity. This deals with being safe during dark hours. The thought behind this theory is that animal become quiet and motionless when they sleep, keeping them safe from predators. The animals that stayed up at night were more vulnerable to attack then those who slept. This theory, however, falls apart when you think about the fact that you will be able to react quicker in an emergency, or attack, situation, when you are awake and alert than when you are asleep.
A physiological approach to sleep is conservation of energy. When we sleep, our metabolisms slow way down. Because our bodies do not require as much energy when we sleep, we cut down on the amount of resources that we need. This theory is believed by many biologists to be one of the reasons why animals sleep.
Some believe that we sleep to dream. To some, dreaming helps you put events of the day into your memory. It helps
consolidate everything that you experienced and puts those events into “folders” that will help you recall them easier in the future. However, this area is certainly up for debate. Dreams are another hot topic related to sleep that scientists can not seem to agree on.
One thing that most sleep scientists would agree on is that sleep has more to do with the brain than the body. There has been no evidence to indicate we sleep to recuperate our bodies. All the indications lead toward the brain. But this is where the buck stops and the debate begins. Why does the brain need sleep? This has been the question scientists have been trying to answer for hundreds of years.
A new and very promising new field in sleep research has to do with brain plasticity. This field has to do with the change in brain composition and interaction when we sleep. The studies in this field are helping scientists figure out what goes on with the brain when humans are sleep deprived and what happens with them when we sleep. FMRIs are helping us look inside the brain and compare what the differences are while we are awake, sleep deprived, and asleep. These findings are going to be able to help us learn what parts of the brain are active and inactive while we sleep.
While the reasons why we sleep are, and probably always will be, up for debate, it is one of only a few things that all life forms have in common. And, while I do not know which theory is correct, if any, I do know that sleep is awesome. So, if we never find the real reason for sleeping, I am okay with that, and I am sure a lot of other people are too.
- Dreams and Nightmares (socyberty.com)
- Go Back to Sleep [Health] (gawker.com)
- Basic Theories of Sleep (iiteeeestudents.wordpress.com)
- Sleeplessness agitates the brain (sciencenews.org)
- The Power of Sleep (sabinianabalagtasbaliba.com)
- Sleep deprivation has euphoric effects (time4sleep.co.uk)
- Sleep texting on the rise, says expert (time4sleep.co.uk)