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Life, Parenting, Sleep

Why do we sleep?

As someone who’s had two babies in three years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sleep but, sadly, not as much time in those first months actually doing the sleeping. If I ever wondered why we need sleep, I had this question answered on a daily basis as I struggled through the day tired. You forget things, it’s harder to concentrate, you feel sad and much more irritable without sleep.

So it might surprise many of us to learn that scientists still aren’t entirely sure why we sleep even though it’s clear there are many benefits: the body repairs itself, the mind sorts all the daily goings on and it helps replenish fuel.

Yet each night as I go to bed I still think it’s odd that all the people in my house and most others in the street, neighbourhood, city, country and in my time zone around the world are all laying down to rest at about the same time. The best sleeps are those ones where you’re head hits the pillow and the next time you open your eyes its a respectable time in the morning.

After getting up and down to babies in recent years it almost became strange to stay in bed all night. I actually feel strangely guilty if I don’t get up and I even miss (just a bit) that middle of the night intimate feeding and settling with the baby. This year I don’t have to get up and I can read and turn over and go to sleep when it suits. It happens every night but I still feel an anxiety about whether I’ll be able to last the distance and stay in the one spot more or less all night.

As Hamlet says so succinctly “To sleep, perchance to dream.”



One thought on “Why do we sleep?

  1. Sleep is a natural process in our diurnal existence. All mammals sleep, some more than others. For example cats sleep up to 20 cycles a day while bears seems to be able to shut down their metabolic rate to near death like levels in order for them to hibernate for up to 3 months in one giant snore fest. We seem to need about 7-9hrs in what appears to be a continuous snooze. But we actually move in and out of different sleep cycles throughout our apparent 8 hrs of nod. Dream states occur in REM sleep and this is when we remember our dreams because it is near waking. Then we slip back into another 90 minute in order to get to the low wave sleep our brain craves and indeed requires for survival. This deep sleep occurs in the 90 minutes cycle and this is when our brain is least active but new research has shown the brain is never quiet. Sleep has also been associated with moral states of being. Shakespeare closely related a lack of sleep with states of madness or moral decay. In the Scottish play, the witches refer to torturing a pilot so he doesn’t sleep and therefore goes off the deep-end. Macbeth references sleeplessness on several occasions and cries out in horror after he dispatches King Duncan that “Macbeth shall sleep no more”. Lady Macbeth’s guilt is clearly exposed in the famous sleepwalking scene when she tries to wash Duncan’s blood from her hands under the watchful gaze of the doctor and maid. So it is important to get the right amount of shut-eye even if the baby’s cycle is only 30-90 minutes of downtime!

    Posted by Teachit | 25 January 2012, 7:21 pm

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