What is the importance of Sleep?

How does sleep impacts the body? How much sleep do we need? How an ensemble of neurons affect sleep?

A third of our entire lives are spent in sleeping. But why do we sleep? Why is it so important for our body and the mind? Experts have spent decades in decoding the mechanisms of sleep and how it impacts our body. When we don’t get adequate sleep, it impairs our circulation, digestion, immune system and most importantly, the way our brain functions. In fact, when we don’t sleep for a long time, we can also die. In an interview with Dragana Rogulja, an assistant professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and Alex Keene, a neurogeneticist at Texas A&M University, Steven Strogatz, noted mathematician, author and host of The Joy of Why, spoke in his podcast about the need of sleep and how it influences our body and the way it functions.

Dragana, who studied the impact of sleep deprivation in fruit flies, said that sleep is when the body disconnects from everything. It stops moving and there is a loss of awareness. Hence the body starts to relax. Speaking of importance of sleep, Dragana mentioned that even though it is observed as a relationship with the brain, it is more than that. Referring to her studies in animals, she said that animals have a basic nervous system and sleep is more of a semantic issue. In fact, a lot of other body parts can also regulate sleep. It was also observed that when animals or insects are deprived of sleep for a period of time, they die instantly. This uncovers a correlation between survival and the loss of sleep.

Alex Keene, who studied Mexican cave fishes to understand the mechanisms of sleep, said that a complex ensemble of neurons is required to generate sleep. Hence, it is not something that can be localised to an individual cell. He also added that patterns and durations of sleep changes in animals and humans with their need for food. Hunger makes them want to go in search of food, which cuts short their sleeping time. Aging and stress also impact sleep. Hence, genes involved in sleep differ with situations and conditions. The ecology of animals also impacts the need and duration of how much an animal or a human need sleep.

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