What is the Purpose of Sleep?

Discover online has a fascinating piece about the nature of sleep -- what's its purpose and why is it so essential?  The piece is written by the author of the blog Neuroskeptic.  From the piece:

Why do we sleep? We spend a third of our lives doing so, and all known animals with a nervous system either sleep, or show some kind of related behaviour. But scientists still don’t know what the point of it is.

There are plenty of theories. Some researchers argue that sleep has no specific function, but rather serves as evolution’s way of keeping us inactive, to save energy and keep us safely tucked away at those times of day when there’s not much point being awake. On this view, sleep is like hibernation in bears, or even autumn leaf fall in trees.

But others argue that sleep has a restorative function—something about animal biology means that we need sleep to survive. This seems like common sense. Going without sleep feels bad, after all, and prolonged sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. We also know that in severe cases it can lead to mental disturbances, hallucinations and, in some laboratory animals, eventually death.

Read the entire piece at Discovery

Posted on May 19, 2012 .