Sleep's Critical Role in Everything Humans Do
Most living things on this planet must sleep in order to ‘recharge their batteries’ in anticipation of the next day. Those who are having a bad day, or can’t seem to do anything right at work often use lack of sleep as an excuse for their mistakes. However, despite being used as a stock answer for when someone is having a bad day, recent studies suggested that sleep deprivation or lack of restorative sleep may, in fact, affect just about any area of our lives.
However, apart from understanding the importance of sleep in several key areas of the body’s functionality, not much is understood about this phenomenon. Science has shown that the loss of sleep is associated with sudden death syndrome, where the person suddenly expires from cardiac arrest. Though, it is unknown exactly how or why these two elements are related.
According to an article published in Scientific American, researchers have noted that we understand much of what there is to know about most basic biological drives, with the exception of sleep. The article states that, for the past 2,000 years, we’ve known much about the basic biological impulses that drive our behavior as humans, yet we’re still metaphorically ‘grasping at straws’ when it comes to understanding the significance of sleep for our health as living beings. Nevertheless, this seemingly-insurmountable mystery hasn’t stopped scientists from slowly blazing a new understanding of sleep.
For instance, when we close our eyes, and our conscienceless drifts into sleep, our body doesn’t stop functioning; not one little bit. While we sleep, our body is working hard to repair the damage sustained during the day, as well as in refueling resources in anticipation of the next day.
There’s much more going on under the hood than what is initially thought when it comes to sleep. Sleep has been linked to things like memory retention and learning, as well as in regulating metabolic processes; our body simply can’t function properly without getting enough sleep. If our actions during the day are considered laying the bricks of a sturdy wall, sleep could be considered applying the cement to said wall, which grants it its sturdiness and resilience.
Here is a list of what is actually happening every time we shut our eyes and check out for the night:
We’re not always ‘sleeping’ when we are asleep
When we first drift into sleep, we slip into what is called non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), which is a form of non-restorative sleep featured mostly in naps. This first phase is followed by a second NREM phase, and then by a third. After this, the person finally arrives at a fourth phase called rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM). It is in this phase where we begin to dream. The phases in which the person obtains the most rest is the third NREM phase first, followed by the REM phase. An average person alternates between these 4 phases during sleep, landing with increased frequency in the REM phase. This phase lasts for around 90 minutes to 2 hours of any sleep cycle. Moreover, each REM phase lasts longer as the night turns into day. For this reason, it is common for individuals to wake up in the middle of a bizarre dream than it is for people to simply wake up normally. Sigrid Veasey, MD, a neuroscientist and a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, says that we still can’t explain the reason behind this fact, though it might have something to do with our mind preparing our body for the day to come.