Sleep is one of my favorite activities. Right up there with devouring tacos from the food trucks outside Antenna’s NYC office on Broadway. But beyond being a good excuse (like you need one…) to curl up in a pile of fluffy blankets and shut the brain off for eight hours straight, why sleep?
Lots of reasons.
Aside from turning normally jovial people into break-room gremlins, snarling whenever anyone else comes near the coffee pot, sleep deprivation can cause a host of horrifying issues, not the least of which are serious health risks and impaired judgment.
Even losing a few hours a night can have a profound effect on your reaction time and the speed at which your brain processes and acts on incoming information. After a few too many nights in a row on fewer than six hours of sleep, people even start misjudging their own sleepiness, insisting that they’ve adapted, or even worse, don’t need that much sleep.
So watsittoya if I’m not my usual perky self every morning? I had things to do, like binge-watch my way through a season of Say Yes to the Dress…
A lot actually. Not only has recent research shown that after having been awake for 17-19 hours, study participants functioned the same as they did when they were intoxicated – as in working on a 0.1% blood alcohol level, – sleep deprivation has been cited as the cause of some major catastrophes. Like Chernobyl.
Yet, for some reason, there are many adults who simply refuse to go to bed.
While the brain does take some sleep-wake cues from natural light, it’s also affected by things like lunar cycles, and the constant battle we’re doing with our natural instincts.
The concept of sleeping eight hours straight, evolutionarily speaking, is a relatively new pattern. Before the advent of the 9-to-5 workday, it wasn’t considered deviant from the norm to sleep for four hours, wake up for a few hours, then go back and finish your slumber. This dual-phased sleep cycle has been replicated in human research studies, where subjects were deprived of natural light for 14 hours a day for a month. Free from the influence of natural and unnatural lighting, they eventually fell into a distinct sleep pattern – four hours snoozing, two hours of wakefulness, then back out for another four. This pattern can also be seen in modern hunter-gatherer populations, who also make sleep a communal experience – as it probably was for our oldest ancestors and their canine companions. (See origins of “a three dog night”).
While the modern human may be fighting a lot to just get some much-needed shut-eye, the benefits of lying down to sleep far outweigh the trouble. As noted in a round-up of recent sleep studies, your brain is doing some of its best work while you snooze. Whether it’s sorting through the subconscious, pruning some old phone numbers or hardwiring tomorrow’s presentation into your memory, your brain uses sleep-time to do major house-cleaning and routine maintenance.
Beyond what good sleep does for your thinker, there are a myriad of health benefits – it ain’t called beauty sleep for nothin’. While you sleep, your ticker gets a rest, blood pressure drops, and your skin repairs itself. This is partly why after a long night out, you wake up looking like you put on five years. With proper sleep, your skin gets a chance to bounce back from the daily damage done, and your slumbering body produces hormones that break down fats, resulting in a trimmer waistline and healthier heart.
So, whether it’s for your heart, mind or complexion, go ahead and hit the sack – it’s good for you!