There are some basic needs that nearly all living things need. These basic needs include things like air to breath, water to drink, and food to eat. One activity that has been proven integral for human survival and sanity, is sleep. Without it our minds and bodies will begin to shut down. Making the importance of sleep a top priority.
In fact, even if we are just slightly deprived of sleep we begin to feel the negative effects it can have. If you have ever struggled with insomnia, then you know how difficult life can become without rest. But why do we need sleep? Why is sleep so very important? In this blog we are going to go through some theories as to why we sleep, and what happens when we are deprived of this oh so important activity. Keep reading to learn more.
Do All Living Things Need Sleep?
The simple answer is no, not all living things need sleep. However, all living things with Central Nervous Systems, do need sleep. So while your plants may close their buds at night and open in the morning, they are not sleeping like animals do. However, even your beetles rest throughout the day. While it may be a bit different than how we sleep, they have a Central Nervous System. Which is how they can move around, feel pain, and also need rest like we do.
What Do We Know About Sleep?
Countless studies have been performed around the importance of sleep. Yet, we still know very little behind what really happens during sleep. For the most part we know that without it, complications arise rather quickly.
We also know that sleep seems to be closely tied to the Central Nervous System and most all brain functions. However, these beliefs are tied to brain activity during sleep and the negative effects on the mind without it.
What Happens During Sleep – Sleep Stages
There are four different stages of sleep. Starting with Non-REM (NREM) sleep that comes in stages 1-3 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Different levels of brain activity occur during these different stages as well as different levels of recovery for the mind and body. Understanding how the sleep cycle works helps us understand the importance of sleep.
NREM Stage 1 –
This is the nodding off stage, or the stage between being awake and going to sleep. Often times the smallest disturbance can wake you up fully and most will claim they were never asleep to begin with. This stage typically only lasts 5-10 minutes.
NREM Stage 2 –
This is when you really begin to sleep. Your body temperature lowers, and your heartbeat will begin to slow down. Your brain will start to produce small spikes in activity called sleep spindles. It seems that the more sleep spindles you have, the better. More sleep spindles indicates a deeper and higher quality of sleep.
While people with schizophrenia, tend to have a mix of fast and slow spindles and less of them overall. Whether this is a bio-marker or a potential cause, we do not know. People who experience more sleep spindles throughout a night sleep also retained information and learned skills better than those who had less. It will be difficult to wake up during this stage of sleep, and it typically lasts for 20 minutes.
NREM Stage 3 –
This is technically the deepest level of sleep. Your muscles relax. Blood pressure and heart rate will decrease even further. (Due to the amount of muscle relaxation, this is typically when snorers will be at their worst) This stage typically lasts around 35-45 minutes on average.
REM Sleep –
This is the golden hour of sleep. It is during REM sleep that it is believed the majority of recovery and activity occurs. Of course, this is when rapid eye movement occurs. This is also when the majority of vivid dreaming happens as well. Brain activity will be so high it is similar to the activity level that happens while you are awake. This cycle is one of the shortest, typically only lasting around 10 minutes.
What Happens During Sleep Deprivation?
All of the following side effects of sleep deprivation really come back to the overall importance of sleep really is. When you go without sleep, you will physically, mentally, and emotionally suffer. Continue reading for more specific details.
When it comes to sleep most scientists can agree that it must be a need tied back to the mind, because without it we tend to go literally crazy. Your experiences and knowledge from the day before are stored into long term memory while you sleep. Without proper sleep, you will begin to struggle to retain information. During extended periods without sleep, a type of psychosis begins to occur. Starting with paranoia, dangerous decision making, hallucinations, depression, mania, along with many other symptoms including some related to schizophrenia.
Tired, your body wants to sleep. Even when you are actively attempting to stay awake, your body will do everything in its power to get rest. Without sleep you will get lethargic. In a healthy functioning body your mind will produce melatonin in an attempt to send signals to rest. You won’t have as much access to physical strength and stamina as you would normally have. Your hand eye coordination will begin to suffer. Hand tremors are also common with even as little as going 24 hours without sleep.
You may even feel more hungry than normal. When you sleep, your metabolism slows down. This allows your body to rest, giving it a break from burning calories. When you stay awake instead, your body is continuing to burn calories at a higher rate. If you go without sleep on a regular basis you are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes.
Even if you only miss a few hours of sleep, you will likely feel the beginnings of the emotional tole sleep deprivation can have on you. Typically starting with irritability.
We have all likely experienced those grumpy mornings where all you want to do is go back to bed. However, as someone gets less and less sleep, they suffer more emotional consequences than being a bit grumpy. This includes feelings of paranoia, depression, low motivation, extreme mood swings, and a steep increase in stress.
If you are struggling with depression, insomnia, or anxiety. Check out our blog on Meditation For Sleep it may just help you out.
Causes of Sleep Deprivation & Sleep Disorders
Sometimes sleep disorders can be caused as little as stress and emotional trauma. If you are facing a hard day at work, or if you recently lost a loved one, it can be difficult to get a good nights rest. However, these situations are typically not long lasting. Other times there are sleep disorders that can make it difficult to go to sleep even at the best of times.
Difficulty or inability to fall asleep naturally. This can be caused by stress, medication, depression, anxiety, poor lifestyle habits, chronic illness, along with a multitude of other potential causes.
Truly with insomnia purely being the lack of ability to fall or stay asleep, it could be caused by a countless number of triggers. Which is why we suggest doing some research and getting us.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) –
The inescapable urge to move or fidget your legs at night or while laying down, due to uncomfortable to painful sensations going on through the legs.
No direct causes have been determined but many chronic diseases that have an affect on blood quality seem to be tied with RLS. However, some believe low activity levels and pooling blood in the extremities may also have something to do with it.
Sleep Apnea –
Irregular breathing patterns while sleeping. Many snorers will struggle with one kind of sleep apnea to another. Although Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is often a side effect of obesity.
Loosing excess weight is one of the most common and effective treatments for OSA. Lowering alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is also helpful for alleviating sleep apnea.
Extreme tendencies of falling asleep during the middle of the day. Different than periodic naps, narcolepsy will happen even if someone is perfectly well rested.
While the cause of narcolepsy is unknown it is theorized that it may be an inherited autoimmune disorder that would cause the low levels of hypocretin, a neuropeptide that regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite. While there is no known cure, there are many treatments that can alleviate symptoms.
This is when you feel fully conscious, while being unable to move. It is typically a frightening experience while some feel sensations of choking. While this can sometimes be vivid dreaming this can also be common for people who suffer from narcolepsy.
This typically only lasts for 1-2 minutes and is usually alleviated with incorporating healthy sleeping habits.
Benefits of Sleep
When we sleep, our minds and bodies have a chance to recover from the day before. Our minds put information into long term memory, while our bodies grow muscle tissue out of micro tears from the labor of the day before. Since your body is at rest, your metabolism gets a break. You burn less calories while you sleep then you would if you were awake. Which allows you to go a full 7-9 hours without eating.
Your stress levels will decrease. By getting a good nights rest, the stress of the day before can be put behind you. Stress hormones are flushed out of the mind, and you get to recuperate. With a good nights rest every morning truly is the start of a new day. A clean slate as far as stress goes.
When you get the correct amount of sleep your memory will increase, you’ll be able to focus, learn more, remember more, feel revitalized, feel stronger, loose more weight, lower risk of heart disease.
Why Do We Naturally Sleep At Night?
There is a theory behind why we sleep at night. It is a part of the Inactivity Theory. It is theorized that animals began to sleep once it got dark outside as a side effect of trying to stay safe. When it is dark outside, it becomes rather difficult to get anything done.
You can’t scavenge for food and it is harder to spot potential dangers like lingering predators. So instead of staying active, it is much more safe to find a good hiding spot and stay quiet by moving very little. Since we are not moving or doing anything active while we hide from predators, we might as well snuggle up and rest. This is thought to be the beginning of what is now seen as sleep.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
To answer this question we need to clarify slightly. There is the minimum amount of sleep we need in order to stay alive and functioning. Then there is the amount of sleep we need in order to maximize our abilities, feel well rested, and function mentally and physically at peak performance.
While studies looking into how much sleep is required for staying alive has not been done on humans, for obvious reasons. There are reports from 1964 that a man named Randy Gardner stayed awake for over 11 days straight. While we would obviously never recommend this, they reported that after returning to a healthy sleep schedule, that there were no lasting physical or mental issues. When it comes to studies on mice and rats, it is unclear whether it is the lack of sleep that is directly causing their deaths or the stress from being kept awake.
As far as getting the optimal amount of sleep, for adults it is recommended that you get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This allows you to get a full nights rest containing all the different sleep cycles and cycling back to a lighter sleep cycle in order to wake up feeling well rested.
The Importance of Sleep is Real
Yes, we all do. In order to stay sane and healthy, then you need sleep in order to survive. While we can go through stints without sleep, there can be long term negative effects of getting less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep for adults. If you are having trouble sleeping on your own, it is important to seek help. There are a number of different factors that could be keeping you awake.
If you need help getting your sleep schedule back on track, you may like our post How To Fix Your Sleep Schedule.