Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Do We Really Need to Sleep?

My droopy eared bloodhound, just like Jed Clampett’s, sleeps around 20 hours a day.  My wife needs around 9 hours and I do just fine with 7.  Albert Einstein got by on a couple of hours a night...and some animals can sleep for months...then stay awake for weeks at a time.   Most humans spend roughly one-third of their life asleep, and researchers still do not know why. 

Yep, the purpose of sleep remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science. Leading theories suggest it has to do with memory consolidation or other to benefit other physiological or neural functions. But a new theory holds that sleep is merely a good way to increase an animal's efficiency, by hunting only when the hunting is good, for example, and minimize its risk: The risk of an accident goes down when you're sleeping.  

While sleep is often thought to have evolved to play an unknown but vital role inside the body, the new theory now suggests it actually developed as a method to better deal with the outside world.

Scientists also wonder why their so much variation in sleep patterns. Newborn dolphins and killer whales and their mothers show an almost total lack of what might be called sleep for several weeks after birth, when these animals normally migrate. Birds can fly for days on end.  It raises the question, if sleep has a vital universal function, how are they able to survive without it?
So let’s consider our favorite morning personality,  Kitty Kinnin’s view of this.  Because Kitty gets up at 4:30 am to do her show...and has a busy social calendar  at night, she considers herself  chronically tired from lack of sleep.  This new research would seem to indicate that Kitty doesn’t really need sleep, she just thinks she does.  
Maybe this explains why people have insomnia.  Perhaps they really don’t need the sleep...they just think they do.  So they have tremendous anxiety because they think they need 8 hours and aren’t getting it.  Sleeping pills and other strategies are next, adding yet more stuff to worry about...thus making sleep even more difficult.
I think humans sleep because they are bored.   Before TV there was literally nothing to do...they couldn’t even hunt at night for lack of night vision goggles.   Even reading books was hard because the lighting was bad.  And for hundreds of thousands of years there wasn’t even a book to read.  
TV has been blamed for us NOT getting enough sleep...because it is actually something to do when the sun goes down.  People did get more sleep before its invention. So now most people go to bed after the 11 o'clock news, but thats because there nothing good on late night TV except for Letterman...and even he is getting old.  
Some people do stay up all night all the time.  Einstein, Leonardo DaVinci and almost every software coder I have ever known did not sleep much...they had too much to think about.  So sleep is just a learned habit, like drinking a beer at five o'clock or brushing your teeth the wrong way.  
So the way you feel when you consider yourself sleep deprived may be more about withdrawal symptoms than actually being tired.  Jeez, this whole issue makes me fatigued....I think I'll take a nap.

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