Why do we sleep? It’s a remarkable fact that human beings spend 36% of their lives asleep! This translates into a time period of 32 years if one lives to 90! Our culture tends to look at it as ‘wasted time’ yet nothing could be further from the truth. Our bodies and our minds require sleep in order to maintain physical and mental health and to enhance creativity and imagination.
Although, research has not definitively proven why we sleep, neuroscience is beginning to zero in on four theories that may answer this question. The first is inactivity, the second is energy conservation, the third is restoration and the fourth is brain processing and memory consolidation or brain plasticity. These theories consider our evolutionary adaptations as a species, brain development and brain function.
Neuroscientist Russell Foster implores us to ‘take sleep seriously.’ Just as we need to eat when we are hungry in order to get the nutrition we need to live, work and play, we also need to sleep when we are sleepy – to relieve the sensation of sleepiness that can negatively impact our lives and even our safety. Addictions to alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants and depressants are often the result of inadequate amounts of rest. A lack of it can result in poor memory, poor judgment, increased impulsivity and emotional imbalance. It’s important to realize that proper rest is an essential component of our lives.
People need different amounts of sleep at different stages of life and the sleep required varies individually, too. Teenagers need at least nine hours of sleep whereas a young adult between 18 and 25 years old may need as little as seven. Of course, young children require more.
Sleeping makes us feel better. We are more alert, energetic, happier and better able to function after a good night’s sleep. Clearly, sleeping is not ‘time wasted,’ but time well spent.