After 50 years of researching, scientists still don’t have an answer as to why we require sleep. The closest thing we have to a reason is what one scientist said.
As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.
One-third of our life is spent sleeping from the time of birth. There is no sure reason as to why, even after several decades of research.
A 29-year-old woman from St. Louis is an Army sergeant named Cheryl Dinges. She has a job to do, and that is to train soldiers in physical combat. Brazilian jujitsu is what her specialty is. This job deals with quite a bit of fighting. But, Cheryl is facing a fight that is even more difficult. Her family carries a gene for what is called fatal familial insomnia. Not being able to sleep is the main symptom of this disease. It is a gradual decrease in sleep. First, the usual daytime nap that you are used to becomes nonexistent. Next, you will find that you cannot sleep a full night through. Then, you will not be able to get any sleep. When the victim of this disease is in his or her 50’s is when the disease begins to kick in. It will normally last for a year but, it always ends with death. Hence, the name of the disease. Dinges has refused to be tested to see if she carries the gene. She said,
I was afraid that if I knew that this was something I had, I would not try as hard in life. I would allow myself to give up.
Fatal Familial Insomnia is a terrible disease. What makes it even worse is that there is not a whole lot known about the way FFI works. Studies have been done for several years, and the people who are researching have figured out that a patient who has FFI has abnormal proteins that are called prions. Prions attack a part of the brain that is buried deep inside called the thalamus. A thalamus that is damaged interrupts the sleep process. Researchers do not have an understanding as to why this happens, how to make it stop, or how to ease the pain of the terrible symptoms. Previous to FFI, researchers did not know that sleep and the thalamus were connected at all. The disease is very very rare, only 40 families in the whole world have FFI. It is a serious mystery much like the types of insomnia that people face every day.
It is hard to know why we can’t sleep if we don’t even know why we need to sleep. It doesn’t matter how much you try to fight sleep, in the end, sleep will win the battle. After about 7 to 9 hours of being asleep, normally, we are ready to get up and face the day. Then, about 15 to 17 hours after that, we are ready to get more sleep.
The main theory of sleep is that the brain needs it. That idea comes from common sense. Does sleep really help the brain, if so, how? The answer can depend on what type of sleep you are referring to. A recent study showed that individuals who had engaged in REM sleep performed better in recognizing patterns such as grammar. Those who slept for more of a deep sleep did better at remembering things.
It is also thought that sleep has a psychological purpose too. Patients that suffer from FFI never live a long life and this is significant. It is unknown as to what really kills them. EEGs are used to diagnose FFI and also, narcolepsy. One person says that he can diagnose sleep problems just by having a conversation with them. There are people who can’t leave their eyes open, and people who talk about how tired they are but do not fall asleep. True insomniacs are the ones who cannot keep their eyes open and the ones who talk about exhaustion typically have sleep apnea.
Insomnia is treated with sleeping pills and cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is a where a specialized psychologist teaches the person to think about sleep problems as manageable and solvable. They are also taught to good sleep hygiene.
If somebody is unable to sleep, it may be because we forgot how to sleep. Everybody sleeps differently. Some people go to bed at a certain time every day, some people sleep alone, some with another person, some sleep on a comfy bed and some sleep on a couch. Since everybody sleeps differently, it can make it difficult to determine why we need to sleep.