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Have you ever wondered why sleeping was so important to your everyday functioning? What about the fact that everyone needs to sleep in order to live? Or maybe you’ve thought about why sleeping too much leaves you… tired? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’ve thought about it too, and it all seems backwards to me. Why in the world should we sleep when there are a million other things you could be doing that seem much more productive?

So what did I find out? Some pretty interesting info! Dive in with me and find out for yourself.

In this piece, I hope to uncover why we need to sleep in order to function normally. As a college student, I’ve pulled many all-nighters to study (and sometimes just for fun) and I’ve paid for it the following couple of days.

The history

After a little research on my own using the wonderful interwebs, I found out that the act of sleeping is a very young topic among scientists. There is so much we don’t know about why humans need their sleep every single day and the process of learning is coming along very slowly. Here are some theories:

  • Ancient Greeks believed that the reason why someone fell asleep was because their head was filled with blood, and the reason why someone woke up was due to all of that blood being drained from their head. (Weird, right?)
  • Some 19th century philosophers believed that someone would fall asleep when their head was emptied of stimulating thoughts.
  • One Biologist remarked: “If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made.”

I found out that rapid eye movements (REM) were discovered in the 1950’s and that with them came stages of sleeping that lasted in 90 minute cycles:

  1. Light sleep. Waking up from this is like you didn’t know you were sleeping in the first place.
  2. Sleep-specific brain waves begin to process that only last a few seconds. If you wake up at this point, you’ll know you were asleep.
  3. Delta waves begin to appear.  Delta waves are long waves that carry you far away from consciousness. Beginning with this stage, you’re considered to be in deep sleep.
  4. A slow-wave stage. This stage is the farthest away from consciousness that your brain seems to get. If you’re woken up at this point, you’ll be completely out of it. It’s a phenomenon that some researchers call “sleep drunkenness.”
  5. REM sleep. It looks like your eyes are moving back and forth against your eyelids at a very fast pace. This stage is when most dreams occur and your brain has the same activity as it would when you are awake.

I also found out that the “8-hours a night” mantra is a myth. Most people can function fully with between 6 and 8 hours of sleep. Anything under can result in low thought productivity and anything over can be considered too much. One of the most acclaimed researchers, Daniel Kripke, had this to say:

“People who sleep between 6.5 hr. and 7.5 hr. a night, live the longest, are happier and the most productive.”

Interesting, right?

The pros of sleeping

Getting just the right amount of sleep can go a long way, especially if you’re uninterrupted. When you wake up, you’ll feel energized and fully functioning. Your brain will be able to accomplish tasks that are both simple and advanced. Your body can focus its energy towards things other than stabilizing your brain, like any extra stress that it will endure through a normal day.

Needless to say, there are many benefits of sleeping. Naming them all off would result in a 10,000 word post that most people won’t take the time to read.

The cons of sleeping

old man sleepingOn average, a human will have spent almost a quarter of their life sleeping. That means if you live to be 100 years old, you’ll have slept away 24 years  of your life. That’s crazy to think, isn’t it? So one of more obvious losses that sleeping hands you is, on average, a quarter of your life lost, just like that. Hearing that makes me want to never sleep ever again.

Another con may be the too little, too much consequences. If you don’t get the right amount of sleep, you’ll be off by some measures for the day. That means according to the research, if you don’t sleep around 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night, you’ll be too tired for the day. Sure, caffeine will doctor you through the day, but when it feels like even that isn’t enough, you’ll think of this post.

For me, I’m constantly going throughout the day. I’m always doing something. So sometimes sleeping feels like a far away friend who hates me. But I know that I have to at least try to sleep. Because of this, my productivity tends to fall off. That means that if I’m totally engrossed in my schoolwork or a project and I stop so that I can sleep, I’ll lose the focused mindset because of sleep.

What do you think? What works best for you? What kinds of sleeping routines do you use?


Featured photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photo pin cc