Have you ever wondered why you need sleep? We spend 30% of our lives sleeping, so it must be something important for us. Spoiler: we need it. Let’s see why.
Without it, our performance drops significantly in any activity. Its absence brings in our minds only one thought and one desire, the bedtime.
Although we accept the fact that we need to sleep, we don’t know yet why we need it. This altered state of consciousness attracted, of course, the attention of Science.
The first scientists that researched this state, and also discovered the REM state, were Nathaniel Kleitman and William Charles Dement. They are also known as the fathers of sleep research.
Dement describes alertness and sleep as the results of an endless war between two armies within our heads. Each party is a group of hormones, neurons and biochemical substances having a different purpose.
The first party aims at keeping us awake while the other party aims at the opposite. The first is called circadian excitation system or process C and the latter is the sleep homeostasis or process S.
This battle between these two armies takes place every day. The paradox of this war is that if an army controls the battlefield, it is certain that this army will lose in the end. The more we stay awake, the greater the need for bedtime. Undoubtedly, we will fall asleep at some time. The same rule applies to the reverse.
So what happens inside our heads in the afternoon when we feel the need for a nap? The war between these two impetuses reaches a climax. This state of mind absorbs too much energy.
During this state of afternoon drowsiness, the power of the opposing armies is equal. Some scientists believe that this is the real reason we need a midday nap. In any case, even if this is not the actual cause of the afternoon drowsiness, one thing is assured; our brain does not function well during this time window.
Despite the fact that when we have a high-quality sleep we feel well rested, it also has numerous benefits for our mental abilities. Sleeping is a very creative state of mind, where one can find inspiration and perceive new ideas.
There are rumors that the famous Russian Dmitri Mendeleyev caught the idea of the periodic table of the elements while he was dreaming. There are various examples of inspirations like that during the mysterious state of sleep.
Many experiments showed that regular sleep can significantly improve the learning process. Let’s see one of these experiments.
The scientists gave a series of mathematical problems to some students. These problems had two solutions, an easy one, and a difficult one. The students were taught only the complex solution.
The purpose of this experiment was to answer the question if slumbering could increase the students’ intuition to find the better solution to the mathematical problems.
The answer was affirmative in the end, as the performance of the students who had slept for 8 hours before the exam, was three times as good as the performance of the students who didn’t fall asleep.
This experiment took place many times and always showed the same result. The group that had a good sleep before the exam had a performance ratio 3:1 to the group that didn’t sleep at all.
Concluding, the sleep is vital for our learning capability, and if we want to expand further our mind skills, we should keep our brain well rested. If we don’t, then we accumulate the sleep debt, which causes mental and physical fatigue, low performance, and increased health risk. Let’s see what happens when we insist staying awake.
Loss of Sleep (LOS)
LOS has adverse effects on our learning abilities. As we maintain this condition, the sleep debt is getting bigger and threatening.
This condition on some occasions can be fatal, especially if the nature of our work is dangerous, like operating heavy machinery in a factory.
Loss of sleep and its effects have also attracted the interest of scientists. Some experiments showed that if someone reduces the slumbering time to less than 6 hours per night for five consecutive days, then his cognitive performance will be equal to someone’s that has been completely deprived of sleep for two days. The performance drop, in this case, can reach 60% .
Apart from the performance drop, LOS is also connected to other adverse side effects. Some of them are listed below:
o Inability to absorb the nutritional components of the food. The reduce can reach up to 30%.
o Insulin production decreases while the body has a high demand at the same time. This condition accelerates the aging process.
o Thinking, attention, memory, psychic mood, calculating skills, reasoning and other similar abilities are also reduced.
o Movement capability is reduced.
It is certain that staying awake for a long time is closely related to unhealthy conditions. We should keep this in mind if we want to move forward in our mind expansion quest.
And how slumber affects our mind capabilities? A research on lab rats showed that the brain of a rat, which had succeeded finding the correct path in a labyrinth, replayed the experience thousands of times when it took a nap. This rat had electrodes in its brain that recorded the electrical activity of its neurons.
The scientists reached this result after comparing the brain patterns of the rat when it was in the labyrinth and when it was sleeping after the test. They found that the patterns were matching when the rat was in low delta sleep.
It seems that the brain needs resting so to establish and organize the new knowledge it gets during the day. It looks like it is another function that completes the learning cycle. We need it; we don’t skip it.