What is Sleep?

The concept of sleep and why we sleep is something that has perplexed scientists for centuries and there is still no set answer as to why we sleep and why we need it. Healthy sleeping patterns will result in us spending around a third of our lives sleeping; it’s something that occurs naturally and is something we have no real control over. Many studies have been carried out on the effects of sleep and what happens to us when we are deprived of sleep. Some liken it to other essential functions, like eating when hungry, as a life-sustaining activity, though some are still sceptical over why we actually need sleep and the functions that sleeping serves.

What is sleep?

According to the National Sleep Foundation sleep is a basic necessity of life. They state that sleep is: “as important to our health and well-being as air, food and water. When we sleep well, we wake up feeling refreshed, alert and ready to face daily challenges. When we don’t, every part of our lives can suffer.”

Some believe that it is our bodies in general that need sleep in order to recharge energy, as we can all acknowledge to some level that a good night sleep can help us to feel more alert, energetic and healthy; however, in reality, the amount of energy that is saved within a full 8 hours of sleep is incredibly small. It is also believed that our brains need sleep the most as it gives the brain a chance to recuperate from the day and sort through information that has accumulated. Not only that but sleeping also helps to maintain normal cognitive skills like speech, memory and innovative and flexible thinking.

What happens when we don’t sleep?

The best way to consider why we need sleep is to look at what happens when we don’t sleep. Sleep deprivation not only has a major impact on cognitive functioning, but also effects emotional and physical health. We’ve all experienced an extremely long day or a night with little to no sleep and we end up feeling grumpy, irritable and forgetful and even just one night without sleep can have severe consequences for our concentration and attention span.

A continued lack of sufficient sleep can lead to a serious decrease in performance, especially in the part of the brain that is responsible for language, memory, planning and sense of time. Research has shown that sleep deprivation often causes a difficulty in responding to certain situations and making rational judgements. At the end of the day, it is proven in one way or another that sleep is essential for our overall health, well-being and functioning.