In the field of sleep medicine one would always ask “Why do we sleep?” And “If we don’t sleep, what would happen?” Well, we don’t have the answer to the first question yet, although there is a lot of research trying to find the answer. Regarding the second question personal experience tells us that if we don’t sleep one night, we suffer the consequences the next day; one feels sleepy, fatigued, irritable, tired, unmotivated, etc. Each one of us can generate a long list of symptoms that we are all familiar with. So why do we feel that way or why do we sleep so we can avoid the symptoms of sleep deprivation?
Research on rodents has shown that if rats are forced to stay awake long enough they will eventually die, usually in a matter of weeks. The same fatal ending does not happen to humans because the human brain will manage to get brief periods of sleep despite attempted continuous wakefulness. This observation clearly tells us that sleep is very important to our health. Many theories were put forth to explain the above phenomenon including: the need for restoration, adaptation, growth, memory? But the simple answer is we just don’t know exactly why we need to sleep.
Like every other field in medicine there is a limit to what we know and we continue to study sleep hoping that one day we will have the answer. Meanwhile it is good to keep in mind what Thomas Dekker said: “Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together”.