Why Do We Sleep?

25th Dec 2016
via
4 min read
  • 1. Our bodies regulate sleep in much the same way that they regulate eating, drinking, and breathing. This suggests that sleep serves a similar critical role in our health and well-being

  • 2. Although it 's hard to answer the question, "Why do we sleep?" Scientists have developed several theories that together may help explain why we spend a third of our lives sleeping

  • 3. Understanding these theories can help deepen our appreciation of the function of sleep in our lives

Hunger and Eating; Sleepiness and Sleep

While we may not often think about why we sleep, most of us acknowledge at some level that sleep makes us feel better. We feel more alert, more energetic, happier, and better able to function following a good night of sleep. Sleep makes us feel better and going without sleep makes us feel worse.

One way to think about the function of sleep is to compare it to another of our life-sustaining activities: eating. Hunger is a protective mechanism that has evolved to ensure that we consume the nutrients our bodies require to grow, repair tissues, and function properly. And although it is relatively easy to grasp the role that eating serves— given that it involves physically consuming the substances our bodies need—eating and sleeping are not as different as they might seem.

An Unanswerable Question?

Scientists have explored the question of why we sleep from many different angles. They have examined, for example, what happens when humans or other animals are deprived of sleep. Yet, despite decades of research and many discoveries about other aspects of sleep, the question of why we sleep has been difficult to answer.

Theories of Why We Sleep
Inactivity Theory

One of the earliest theories of sleep sometimes called the adaptive or evolutionary theory, suggests that inactivity at night is an adaptation that served a survival function by keeping organisms out of harm’s way at times when they would be particularly vulnerable.

Energy Conservation Theory

The energy conservation theory suggests that the primary function of sleep is to reduce an individual’s energy demand and expenditure during part of the day or night, especially at times when it is least efficient to search for food.

Restorative Theories

Another explanation for why we sleep is based on the long-held belief that sleep in some way serves to "restore" what is lost in the body while we are awake. Sleep provides an opportunity for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself.