Why Do We Need Sleep Anyway?

Dr. Dan JensenSleep

Why Do We Need Sleep Anyway?
Dr. Dan Jensen

We all agree that sleep is important. However, many of us fall into the trap of thinking that we only need a few hours in bed each night. While it’s recommended that adults sleep between 7 and 9 hours every night, around 30% of American adults sleep less than 5 hours per night! If you’ve started sleeping less, here are a few of the reasons why we all need to sleep more.

Sleep is Survival

We spend about one third of our lives sleeping, and no animal can survive without sleeping. What happens when you don’t sleep? If you spend a few nights without sleeping, it will only take a couple of days for you to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. You’ll have a lack of awareness, trouble focusing or holding your attention, a distorted sense of time, poor mental function, and extreme exhaustion and fatigue. The world record for the most time awake is held by Randy Gardner, and he experienced this first-hand. In 1965 the then 16-year-old stayed awake for 11 days. Towards the end of that time, he wasn’t able to speak coherently or think clearly, and he couldn’t focus on any tasks. Long sleep deprivation can even lead to death.

How Sleep Affects Cognition

When scientists want to test the role of sleep, they’ll deprive study participants of sleep for a few hours or days and then give them a series of cognitive tasks. These can be anything from a reading task to simple math, or solving more complex puzzles. Researchers find that for every extra hour participants are deprived of sleep, their performance will be significantly worse. Sleeping a minimum of 7 hours per night is necessary for optimal cognitive function and performance.

Why Do we Need Sleep?

But why do we need sleep? From a evolutionary standpoint, isn’t sleeping dangerous, leaving us vulnerable to attack from some predator? Scientists say that sleep is important for two main reasons.

Brain health: Sleep gives our brain a boost, and improving cognitive function. One of the main roles of sleep is helping us encode memories from the day, and migrating memories from short to long term memories. We’re constantly learning new things, but unless you’re getting a good night’s sleep every night, your ability to recall the information that you’ve learned will be far worse. Sleeping is a crucial part of encoding information.

One study that clearly demonstrated this tested teenagers’ ability to recall information. One group received some information at 9 a.m. and were tested on it 12 hours later, at 9 p.m. The second group learned the information in the evening at 9 p.m. and were tested the following morning at 9 a.m. Even though the group that slept couldn’t spend the day studying the material, on average they performed 20% better than those who were tested on the material in the evening! Sleep plays a major role in brain health, and has a big impact on memory.

Body health: The second reason sleep is so important is that is helps our immune system function. It gives our bodies the time and energy to repair organs, rest muscles, and balance hormones. During sleep, our T-cells, or immune cells, are the most active, restoring and refreshing the body and fighting off potential pathogens before they have a chance to make you sick. Take vaccines as an example. Researchers looked at how people responded to vaccines by testing their immune system response. They found that people who had a full night of sleep after getting a vaccine had a far strong immune response than those who didn’t sleep after getting the vaccine.

Sound Sleep Medical

Are you ready to get a good night’s sleep? We know you have a busy life, and don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done, but don’t sacrifice your sleep. Put down your work and crawl into bed a little earlier. When you come back to a task in the morning after a full night’s rest, you’ll be more focused, have better energy, and get your work done with fewer errors. Need help sleeping through the night? If you’re struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, visit our team at Sound Sleep Medical to find out how you can sleep easily every night.