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Why do we sleep

27-12-2013

Why do we sleep

As a race we have uncovered so much about the world around us, scientific progress has been and continues to be incredible. In the past century alone we have discovered so much about the underlying nature of reality, about the other life that we share this planet with as well as a lot about how our bodies and minds work. One area of human research that has struggled somewhat in comparison is the study of sleep. In fact, the fundamental questions of sleep still remain unanswered. We may have a working theory of how stars form and the processes that give particles mass, but we are still puzzling over why we sleep.

Humans are endlessly curious, this drive has taken us from the savannahs of Africa to dominate the world, it has taken has from the trees into skyscrapers, it has taken us as far as the moon and as deep as the bottom of the ocean. We have discovered much about the world around us, from the interactions of the subatomic particles to the explosive lives of the huge fusion processes called stars yet there are still mysteries that puzzle us, there are still questions that we have not answered. Interestingly some of the most beguiling questions are those closest to home, as if we find it easier to point the telescope to the stars than we do to spin it around and focus upon ourselves. One mystery that still baffle us is why we sleep.

Why we sleep
Why do we sleep? In the past the answer was seen as fairly obvious, we were recharging our batteries, we were reenergising after a busy day. However, as time has gone on scientists have shown that this is not a thoroughly satisfying answer. In fact, while we do not have an definitive answer for this question, we are starting to build up a number of plausible theories. One is that we sleep to protect ourselves from damage in the dark, that we risk injury bumbling around in the dark and that sleep is just a way of stopping us from walking around at night. Another is that we sleep so that we are able to process our memories, that the process of sleep is not so much about physical regeneration but is vital in sorting and storing all the day’s events. The third is that we sleep to give our body a chance to regulate the many physiological processes it has to conduct every day, from removing fluid build ups through to regulating hormones. The truth is that for now we cannot prove or disprove any of these, and that it could well be all of the above.

Is there an answer?
Unfortunately we may never know exactly why, for unlike many of the other scientific mysteries that we have solved, the secret of sleep lies in our distant past. Unlike the movement of the molecules, which we can study and experiment with, the reason that we began to sleep is an artefact of the past and this means that we can only conjecture rather that discover.


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