Strange as it may seem, for decades researchers and scientists have sought to know why we sleep but haven’t drawn any definite conclusions. Most likely, that’s because there isn’t one single reason for why we sleep. Rather, there are many benefits.
Several thousand years ago, Hippocrates suggested that sleep was caused by the retreat of blood away from the periphery of the body, and a handful of decades later, Aristotle argued that sleep was caused by vapors rising from the stomach to the heart. In the early 1800s, Scottish surgeon Robert MacNish wrote in The Philosophy of Sleep that sleep is “a temporary metaphysical death” providing an intermediate state between waking and death.
The Causes and Reasons for Sleep
Over the past several hundred years, the theories regarding the causes and reasons for sleep have become increasingly sophisticated as technological innovations have permitted humans to peer into the biological inner workings and intricacies of the body. As a result, it is now theorized that sleep is needed for vital restorative and cognitive functions. Researchers have shown that sleep supports healthy immunity, improves tissue healing, and restores hormonal balance. Furthermore, it is believed that sleepiness is produced by a substance called adenosine, which our bodies produce naturally. Adenosine has an inhibitory effect on the brain, causing drowsiness. During sleep, the body has an easier time eliminating excess adenosine.
Body Does a Neural Housecleaning During Sleep!
It is also now believed that the body does a neural “housecleaning” during sleep in which information and neural connections are organized and cleaned up. Certainly, research (and common sense) shows that when we get enough sleep we are better prepared to think clearly and quickly, which could be, in part, due to this cognitive benefit of sleep.
Regardless of the details of why and how, research is only confirming what we already know that “we must sleep”. Despite efforts to remain awake indefinitely, humans are forced to sleep sooner or later. The only exception is those suffering from an extremely rare condition called fatal familial insomnia, which causes the 100 people with the condition to experience progressively worsening insomnia until they are unable to sleep, and they eventually die from the condition. But for the other 7.3 billion of us, no matter how much caffeine we ingest, we’ll fall asleep within a few days at most.
The record held for remaining awake is 11 days, but I don’t suggest trying to achieve that yourself!