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What’s the big deal with sleep?


Sleep is something that’s a huge part of everyone’s life, but few people really think about. Why exactly do people need to sleep? What happens in your body while you're sleeping? And why is your bedtime so much earlier than your parents'? Read on to find out!

What is sleep?

two guys sleeping at a table

This might seem like a silly question. Sleep is the time when you’re not awake! But what does that mean? Sleep is a state in which a human being becomes unconscious. That means you’re almost completely unaware of what’s going on around you, and you’re usually not moving very much. During sleep, your body goes through a number of processes that are important to keep you healthy.

Why do we need to sleep?

koala sleeping in a tree

Humans aren’t the only creatures that need sleep. Most animals do as well. But why is sleep so important? Sleep allows your body and brain to rest and recharge. Without enough sleep, your thinking becomes cloudy. It can be difficult to focus, and, if you’re really sleep deprived, you might even start hallucinating, or seeing things that aren't really there!

little girl sticking out her tongue at a docto

Sleep is also important for your immune system — these are the processes your body uses to fight off illness! Some of the things your body makes to fight off sicknesses only get made while you’re conked out. That means it’s important to get enough sleep, even if you’re healthy. It’ll help you stay that way.

little girl sleeping in some feathers and snow

Photo on Visual Hunt

Another reason to make sure you’re getting enough sleep? Sleeping releases a hormone that triggers growth in kids. So if you want to keep growing big and strong, make sure you’re catching your zzzs!

How much sleep is normal?

family sleeping on the subway

Photo by tokyofortwo on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Different people need different amounts of sleep. One thing that is known, however, is that kids need more sleep than adults. Kids aged six and up usually need between nine and eleven hours, with teens usually needing about eight to ten. So, that’s why you probably have an earlier bedtime than your parents! They weren’t just being mean this whole time — it’s science!

Have people always slept in one big chunk?

reading in the dark by candle light

Photo by Kissed by Fire on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Historians have found that many people used to sleep quite differently than we do today. Biphasic sleep, as this type of sleep pattern was called, meant sleeping in two chunks. Before electricity, the nights were long and dark so people would go to sleep about two hours after dusk, when day changes in to night and the sky begins to get very dark. This first part of their sleep would last for about four hours. Then, they would wake up for about an hour or two, during which they would read by candle light, write, pray or even visit neighbours! They would then sleep again until dawn when they could go back to work or school. While it’s an interesting idea, it’s probably not a good idea to go knocking on your neighbour's door at 2 a.m.!