Sleep is Awesome, but Why?Sean Morrow

Sleep is beautiful, bizarre and difficult to explain (yes, everything is beautiful, I’ll admit it). We humans (and a bunch of other animals) do this thing where we dip out of the conscious world for a bit with nothing but a loose promise to return, trusting that our slumber won’t be eternal. We desire it, daydreaming of our regular dreaming on particularly stressful days, but also indirectly revile it: you don’t openly hate sleep, but wouldn’t you prefer an existence of constant consciousness with more time to do stuff you like to do? Sleep rules, but I’d also like to have the time to finish this season of Parks and Rec.

Sleeping when you should be doing something important – like homework, or running away from lions – is a bad idea, but not sleeping is also a bad idea for a whole slew of reasons. That’s right, a whole slew of reasons. The most recently discovered un-benefit of un-sleeping is a bit weighty: not sleeping can lead to weight gain. That’s not really a weighty issue – putting on a few pounds is a lot less serious than say…. most other things, but I had to make the pun.

I’ll get back to that reason specifically; I’m not gonna dwell on the weight gain thing as there are a lot of reasons we need sleep. . As recently as 2012, the BBC reported that “the question [why do we need sleep?] still perplexes scientists.” The whole concept behind scientists not understanding things about what they are–humans–is kinda crazy but crazy in a good way, like a crazy amount of chicken fingers. Mmm, chicken fingers. Sleep science is astonishingly new considering how integral sleep is to being a human; we’ve only known about REM sleep and sleep cycles since 1937, which is about 10 years after the the first time an anti-Semite flew a freaking metal tube across the entire Atlantic ocean.

If you’re a human, the most tertiary reason as to why you need to sleep is obvious: you feel better when you do it. The effects are obvious. When you wake up you’re not tired anymore, your brain works better, you can focus easier. Sleep is good. The real question is why.

Image via Wikimedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Effects_of_sleep_deprivation.svg)

Studies have shown that sleep helps memory: two groups were given some stuff to remember, one group in the morning and one group at night. The morning group was brought back at night to see if they remembered stuff. They didn’t. The night group slept a night’s sleep and came back in the morning: they remembered the stuff. Remembering stuff is good, right? I guess as a man, according to stereotypical gender roles, I should remember stuff like sports scores and forget stuff like my girlfriend’s birthday, but in reality I don’t remember anything because some of my hobbies in college weren’t conducive to short-term memory health.

As I said earlier, losing sleep can lead to weight gain. Sounds counter-true because like, moving around and stuff makes you lose weight, so why would forgoing laying around make you gain weight? But “losing just a few hours of sleep a few nights in a row can lead to almost immediate weight gain,” says The New York Times.

It’s complicated: you burn more calories when you sleep less, but your appetite goes way up.

“We found that when people weren’t getting enough sleep, they overate carbohydrates,” he said. “They ate more food, and when they ate, food also changed. They ate a smaller breakfast and they ate a lot more after dinner.”

Like a lot of psychological studies, this is interesting in that it’s amazing that you can observe the same behavior among multiple people, a reminder that we’re animals, and animals are basically chemical machines.

The biological or circadian clock is an important part of the human  Wikipedia has this great map of the biological clock:

So that’s why I always feel more manly after I poop!

This pieces addresses the physical and mental benefits of sleeping, and why we need to do it, but sleeping is inherently connected to dreaming, which is also mentally beneficial for a bunch of reasons independent of sleep, so this time next week, check in for part 2: Dreams are Awesome, But Why?

Images via Wikipedia and Shutterstock.

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