Why You Desperately Need Your Sleep
How about those people who don't need sleep? What are they called again? Successful? What a bunch of dicks they are.
Jim Gaffigan, American comedian
The significance of that quote goes far deeper than the joke Jim intended. "Successful" tends to refer to people who make a lot of money. They are usually workaholics, they neglect their families (if they have families that are still together), they are first in line for divorce, many commit "white collar" crimes that make us wonder "What were they thinking?" Most of them die wondering what their lives might have been like if they had not idolized money.
One characteristic they all have in common--all people self described as "successful"--is they get only a few hours of sleep each night. The payoff for them is their feeling of success and the size of their investment portfolio.
Most are narcissistic, even to the point of being borderline (or actually) psychopathic. They are the ones that those they consider "unsuccessful" think of as slaves to a system with money as its god. If they are not actually in the "1%" they are strong supporters of those who are. Any support for those who are desperately in need through no fault of their own comes with a catch--tax deduction, social status, self-aggrandizement.
In my experience (anecdotal evidence only) these self described "successful" people all believe that they can get along with only a minimum of sleep. To them, sleep is the equivalent of a long coffee break.
That is patently false, which is why so many of them lead single purpose lives, like monks, and why most of them die far younger than they believed they should, having suffered for too many years before their death with unexplained health problems.
As they lie dying they will be visited by family members and other individuals whose names appear in their will. They bought that devotion.
The above is but one consequence of sleep deprivation. As always, no generalization is 100% accurate for everyone. And it may be argued which came first, the dedication to 'success' or sleep deprivation--chicken and egg. Here are more consequences: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/important-sleep-habits
So what else does your brain do while you sleep? First you should know that your brain may be busier when you sleep than when you are awake. It's that busy. Not dreaming necessarily as that is more of a side effect. Yes, you read that right.
The most important activity your brain does when you sleep is house cleaning. Blood vessels that are so tiny they can hardly be detected in daytime enlarge greatly inside the brain when you sleep. They carry away amyloid beta among other things. The brain makes amyloid beta and needs it when you are awake, though the reasons are unclear. It is cleared away by those blood vessels when you sleep. Too much retained in the brain may be a primary cause for Alzheimer's. Lack of sufficient sleep would mean amyloid beta would stay in the brain. Almost every brain analyzed of Alzheimer's sufferers contained plaque of amyloid beta.
Also during sleep the clutter of what accumulated while you were awake is cleaned out. Everything you see, hear, taste, touch, smell and think during the daytime is too much to commit to memory. So priorities are made and the necessary stuff is committed to memory. The rest is cleared away.
The brain actually does some problem solving while you sleep. Have you ever wrestled with a problem you could not solve during the day, then wakened at night or in the morning with the solution ready at hand? The brain does figuring like that, sorting through data, prioritizing it, then working out a solution while you sleep. A sleep deprived brain can't do that.
Dreaming helps people to make sense of what they experienced during their waking hours. Sometimes, not always. Often daytime experiences are assembled in an incorrect order and they emerge at night as dreams. Science is not certain what causes nightmares, though there are many theories. Dreams tend to be refashioned assemblies of experiences and thoughts of the previous few days.
What about naps during the daytime? Do they do good or harm? A nap may give rest to a tired physical body. It may also give the brain time to consolidate what has been learned over the previous few hours. Consolidating new learning is one critically important function of sleep. Science has proven that staying up late to cram for an exam often results in confusion and forgetfulness during the exam itself.
Better to learn a bit at a time, then sleep or nap to consolidate it and commit it to memory. You can't draw on information that is not already in your memory.
Why do you desperately need your sleep? Because you desperately need your brain to help you avoid being a boring drone with a limited future and a lifespan that is shorter than it should be.
The human brain has been under intense scrutiny for studies in recent years. Brain transplants, uploading data to the brain and artificial electronic brains are under study, but are many years away from any kind of conclusion, let alone approval.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems and hundreds of articles which are available on the internet by searching his name.
Learn more at billallin.com