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Sleep is a topic we discuss frequently on this blog - after all it is our business! We’ve discussed ways to sleep better; from diet and exercise to picking up a comfy new mattress but there’s one topic we have only touched in passing - why do we even sleep at all? The reason for that is simply that there isn’t a conclusive answer, but here we take a look at some competing theories to try and untangle the mystery.
One idea is that sleep functions essentially as an energy saving device - we switch off our bodies for hours each night simply to avoid wasting precious energy and avoid the dark and cold of night-time. However the energy saved by an average person over a night (compared to being awake and inactive) is a mere 50 calories - equivalent to a slice of toast. Although energy conservation might be part of the reason we sleep it is hard to believe it provides a sufficient evolutionary advantage to be practical - after all we are far more vulnerable when unconscious.
A good place to start is to consider what happens to our bodies when we go without sleep. With prolonged wakefulness that part of the brain that controls language, sense of time, planning and memory slows down - being awake for 17 hours leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to drinking 2 glasses of wine.
If you go even longer without sleep your mental function will gradually decline. Extremely long bouts can even lead to hallucinations as a DJ named Peter Tripp discovered when he went 201 hours without sleep while broadcasting a show.
As our cells work they produce a number of waste products which are normally cleared out by the lymphatic system. This is true of neurons as well, but the brain is not connected to the lymphatic system. However when we sleep those residues are collected and removed by cerebrospinal fluid. Your brain’s “garbage men” work much faster when you sleep as neurons shrink by up to 50%. By not sleeping we allow waste to build up, impairing fast neural connections we need to function fully.
But restoring brain function is also not a complete explanation of why we sleep. Most animals also need to sleep, but the amount they do isn’t particularly related to brain size or activity - more general metabolism. For example a python, which might eat as infrequently as once in 6 months, sleeps for 18 hours a day but the larger and more active giraffe needs just 1.9 hours.
Sleep is made up of several distinct phases, which can be detected by monitoring brain activity. By removing different phases of sleep, scientists can hope to understand more about what they do. Slow wave sleep, when your brain consolidates memories from short to long term storage is most beneficial to declarative memory - facts and knowledge. REM sleep is better for procedural memory - where we remember how to perform learned actions.
What is sure is that you need a good bed if you are going to spend that long in it so check out our full range now!