What do we spend a third of our lives doing, even though nobody really knows why? Sleeping! In honor of National Sleep Awareness Week, let's take a moment to learn about the importance of sleep, how to tell if you're getting enough, and what you can do if you're not.
Even though so much time is spent doing it, no one really knows why animals evolved to need sleep. In fact, it seems almost anti-evolutionary for an animal to need to be unconscious for so long. Nonetheless, sleep is one of the most ubiquitous behaviors in Nature, so it's probably pretty important. There are plenty of theories, and some interesting new research, but no definitive answers yet.
What we do know is that people who don't get enough sleep -- whether because of hectic schedules or disorders such as insomnia -- suffer a litany of physical and cognitive problems including stress, weight gain, reduced formation of memories, and impaired reasoning, just to name a few. And in one recent study, rats that were totally deprived of sleep for several weeks simply died, without any apparent anatomical cause.
So, sleep is pretty important! But don't worry, there's lots you can do if you think you're not getting enough. First, remember that everyone needs a different amount of sleep -- generally, as you age you can get by with less. Make sure your sleep environment is quiet, cool, and comfortable. Stick to a consistent sleep/wake schedule to help train your body's "clock", and, perhaps most importantly -- get some exercise! Check out some more bedtime tips here. Good night!