Why do we sleep? Do you ever stop to think why we were created with the need to spend 6-8 hours per day in this state of physical inactivity and very low brain activity? What happens during sleep that is so important, so much that when we go one day without “a full night’s rest”, we begin to show signs of mental and physical malfunction? The answer is A LOT happens during sleep because resting is a crucial part of health.
On a physical level, there’s cellular regeneration. Your body is busy all day doing the stuff you want it to do: eat, chew, and digest food; pump blood down to your legs so you can walk, pump blood back up to your arms so you can type on the computer; think, multi-task and come up with solutions to various work or home predicaments, etc…All of this is considered work by your body, and as it perform this work, energy gets used up, cells die, and muscle breaks down. During sleep, all of this gets repaired. It happens while you’re awake too, some cellular regeneration and repair, but, as you can see from taking inventory of your actions of the day, your body’s energy is mostly put elsewhere. When you sleep, the opposite is true: most of your body’s energy is dedicated to recovery.
Now, when we talk about work and the energy required to perform it, we don’t just mean the physical stuff like cells, tissue and organs. We mean the intangible stuff too. Thinking requires energy. And, beyond the chemicals that your brain needs to do its thinking, we’re talking about the mental capacity you have to do a certain amount of things in a certain amount of time. For example: Do you know why phone numbers are divided into three-to-four digit subgroups (555-555-5555)? Because a part of our mind we call “short therm memory” can only hold three to four items at a time. Our memory – short term and long term – has limits, and when we sleep, we shuffle around the units we’ve used up so that more space can be made for new stuff to be memorized or processed. This is why our mind has levels: Conscious – what you’re aware of when you’re awake – and either subconscious, unconscious or supra-conscious (depending on your school of thought), meaning, the stuff that is still there even if you’re not totally aware of it while you’re awake.
If you think of your mind as a house that has visible stuff (furniture and decoration), and invisible but still present stuff (closet and storage content), you can say that sleep is when the house gets cleaned. Sleep allows you to put the decor and furniture you don’t need for everyday use back into storage, while it makes room for other stuff you may need to bring in to use that day. When you don’t sleep, your mind is not allowed to do this cleaning up and reorganizing work, and when this happens, well, let’s just say the word “disorder” is very appropriate.
When people don’t get enough sleep, they get cranky. Emotions rush to the surface, and you can cry out of nowhere, for no reason, feeling extra sensitive to words and comments. You forget things or can’t seem to retain what was just told to you. You don’t perform optimally – your work suffers because you miss a sign or skip a step, and you can’t seem to properly communicate what you need. In other words, you can’t THINK.
This can all happen from ONE NIGHT of disrupted sleep. There are other effects of interrupted sleep, such as weight-gain, fat-gain (or the inability to lose body fat even if you’re dieting), sugar cravings the following day, and more, which you can read about in the studies published in our various HReports.
Sleep is so important for mental processing that a recent HReport highlighted a study that found that naps actually help us better retain information after studying or learning new information.
Another equally important concept I must mention here is the simple state of inactivity we call rest. Maybe you get enough sleep, but maybe for the past few weeks, you’ve been on non-stop work mode, days, nights and weekends. Well, your body and mind have a cycle of work and recovery, and so does your soul. If you’ve been focusing on work a lot and have not gotten enough run and recreation or just plain “chilling out” time – time in your day or week when you do nothing, no physical labor, no mental labor, nothing you “have” to do – in your routine, you will also suffer – in health or performance. Our souls need a break too, to recover from diligence and simply bask in our divine right to just BE. Make sure you’re respecting your sleep and rest cycles, and you will have a much better chance to achieve optimal health.