It’s a stock answer why we have bad days, feel cranky or can’t concentrate during the day: We didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or we’re not sleeping well overall.
But although it’s often posited as an excuse, myriad studies show a lack of sleep does indeed impact just about every aspect of our life.
According to an article in Scientific American, the role of sleep is not yet fully understood, especially when it comes to biological functions. “Although we understood the function of every other basic drive 2,000 years ago, we are still struggling to figure out what the biological functions of sleep are,” the article noted.
Scientists have come up with a list of certain issues that are tied to sleep: “The slumbering brain plays an essential role in learning and memory, one of the findings that sleep researchers have reinforced repeatedly in recent years. But that’s not all.
There’s a growing recognition that sleep appears to be involved in regulating basic metabolic processes and even in mental health.”
For one thing, scientists have discovered that for every two hours humans spend awake during the day, the brain needs an hour offline to process the information it takes in.
That explains why the average person needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night to feel refreshed the next day.
What’s more, the article noted, sleep “[is] also critical in the extraction of gist from large collections of information and the discovery of rules that control that information so if you give various stimuli, sleep can help you determine what the rules are as to what the stimuli produce and can even help with the development of insight in patterns and rules that you didn’t even know were there.”
That explains the phenomenon of solving problems or discovering answers while a person sleeps.
Sleep, too, is linked to a person’s mental health, according to the article. “If you have depression, there’s a fourfold increase in your likelihood of apnea and if you have apnea, there’s a fivefold increase risk of depression,” the article noted. What’s more, “If you take people with bipolar disorder and sleep deprive them, you’ll flip them into the manic state.”
Sleep is important to our physical well-being as well, with study after study linking poor sleep habits to heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and more. But, as the Scientific American article pointed out, sleep can have an almost immediate affect on our state of mind and later our state of being.