An Irish proverb offers a bit of time-tested wisdom: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” Few would argue about the healing power of a good chuckle. However, there are quite a few people who will tell you that all this insistence that slumber is part of a healthy lifestyle is overrated. After all, they get by on just a few hours, and they’re doing fine. Why do humans need sleep?
Why Do Humans Need Sleep?
The average human will spend between one-quarter and one-third of their life sleeping, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. That’s a fair amount of time to devote to an activity. Why do humans need sleep? What should you know about dreaming? What can you do to enjoy a better night’s sleep?
Sleep, the Brain, and the Body
Historically, scientists viewed sleep as a time when the brain and body shut down. As a result, philosophers and writers often described it as a kind of temporary death. As Johns Hopkins Medicine explains, that changed a bit in the 1950s. Since that time, research has revealed that your brain is actually rather busy while you’re sleeping. Numerous activities that are vital to both physical and mental health keep the brain active during slumber. In fact, researchers have pinpointed several crucial chores the brain and body tackle during sleep:
- Adaptability: Sleep is essential for brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to adapt to incoming information. Without enough sleep, you’ll struggle to learn or think.
- Memory: Brain plasticity is also vital for creating and retaining memories. Lack of sleep can leave you unable to build new memories or recall ones that you already have.
- Housekeeping: Sleep seems to support the removal of waste products from the brain.
- Immunity: Sufficient sleep truly is tied to your well-being. Poor or insufficient sleep is associated with compromised immunity and an increase in illness and infection. It’s also linked to worsening depression, migraines, seizures, and hypertension.
- Metabolism: Sleep has a role to play in your metabolism. Just one night of poor sleep can trip a healthy person into a prediabetic state.
Dream a Little Dream
What about dreaming? If humans need sleep to be healthy, is dreaming a must? The science here is murkier, but it’s no less fascinating. Sleep Foundation shares some intriguing facts about dreaming:
- Everyone dreams. Some people dream in color. Others dream in black and white.
- Visual elements are the most common, but the other senses can also come into play. Dreams can include sounds, tastes, touches, and smells.
- Dreams are most common during the rapid eye movement, or REM, stage of sleep. However, it’s a myth that they only occur during that period. They can occur anytime that you’re asleep.
- Dreams during REM sleep are generally more vivid. They also tend to be more bizarre and nonsensical.
- Scientists theorize that dreaming could be a way of building memory, processing emotion, or the form of mental housekeeping. Other suggestions include that dreams could be the result of distorted instant replays from the brain or that they’re simply the incidental by-product of other brain activity.
Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
When sleep is elusive, these tips from the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep can help:
- Exercise during the day. Being active can make falling asleep easier.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Limiting alcohol is also helpful.
- Create a bedtime routine. Going through it will help prepare your mind and body for sleep.
- Try to maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule.
- Keep technology out of the bedroom. Televisions and cellphones can stimulate the brain, making sleep difficult.
- Ensure that your bedroom is a restful sleeping environment. Keep it cool and dark, and choose a comfortable mattress.
Why do humans need sleep? Ultimately, it seems to be a crucial recharging period. What if your old mattress is making it hard for you to enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep? Beautyrest Sleep Gallery can help. Stop by today to explore our selection of top-quality mattresses.