Why You Need to Sleep well

We can’t experience sleeplessness, so we’re still unable to know why exactly we sleep, although we spend a third of our lives asleep, says Dr. Dement, founder of Stanford University Sleep Clinic.

But we do know some things about what happens when we sleep.

If you clicked to know why you need good sleep, here is what you need to know in short: while we’re asleep, our brains do a lot of work on consolidating memories and getting ready to learn more. Read ahead to know more!

The American neurophysiology PhD William Charles Dement, who discovered the REM sleep phase. (by Ed Souza via Wikimedia Commons)

By the time we’re ready to hit the hay at night, our brains would have worked very hard. While our bodies are about to take some time off, our brains are buckling up for some more work.

Sleep stages

On a typical night, you go to bed, and it takes you a few minutes, if you’re lucky, to a couple of hours to slumber. Then you typically go through 4-6 cycles of sleep stages, which are two types, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.

Let’s start with non-REM sleep, which consists of three stages: Stage 1 where all that happens is basically dozing off, Stage 2 is the light sleep stage, and Stage 3 is the deep sleep stage.

Now looking at REM sleep. This is only one stage where your eyes move rapidly under your eyelids, and you have most of your vivid dreams. Your body is paralyzed in this stage to prevent you from acting out your dreams.

Brain region correlated with memory consolidation and imagination (Henry Vandyke Carter and one more author – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body via Wikimedia Commons)

The hippocampus

When you learn new information, like someone’s name or playing a new piece of music, it’s eventually stored in the long-term memory by the help of the hippocampus, a structure in the brain that’s mainly responsible for learning and memory. Its role in memory consolidation was demonstrated in the 1950s by Dr. Milner and her work with patient H.M. when he had his hippocampus removed. Due this, his ability to form new short- and long-term memories was damaged.

Dr Brenda Milner, Neuroscience Prize Winner (by Per Henning/NTNU via Wikimedia Commons)

What happens?

In his book, Why We Sleep, Dr Walker explains how our long-term memories form from what happened and what we learned throughout the day during deep sleep. Light sleep refreshes our minds as the brain gets rid of the neural garbage accumulated through the day, preparing us for more learning. Finally, REM sleep, during which the mind makes connections between new and old memories in strange ways. Hence, the incomprehensible dreams. These connections enhance our learning and creativity. For example, Paul McCartney of the Beatles woke up with the whole Yesterday melody in his mind and thought someone else had written it.

Most of deep sleep is at earlier sleep cycles and most of light sleep is at later cycles. So, if you sleep or wake up later or earlier than usual, it can affect your memory consolidation and learning ability. This is why you need to maintain a sleep schedule and sleep well.

A cat sleeping well (by Umberto Salvagnin via Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks for reading & Stay curios