Why Exactly Do We Need Sleep? Researchers Aim to Find Out

man in bed with eyes opened suffering insomnia sleep disorderResearchers are getting closer and closer to figuring out why the human body sleeps.

While there have been countless sleep studies done in animals of all species, the reason why we sleep has puzzled scientists worldwide. Now, it seems that they are closer than ever to debunking the mystery surrounding sleep.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Giulio Tononi recently discovered that sleep evolved so that the connections in the brain can rest and make space to form fresh memories during waking hours. He believes that while we’re awake, our brains record memories by reinforcing connections between brain cells, and they need time to rest in order to think clearly the next day.

Tononi publicized his thoughts at the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies in Copenhagen, Denmark earlier this month. His evidence explains what happens to our bodies when we miss a night’s sleep, and how it is harder to concentrate and learn new information the next day.

As explained to New Scientist, Tononi sums up his study saying “Sleep is the price we pay for learning.”

To get his findings, Tononi studied the synapses in the brains of mice for over four years.

Previous studies have also backed up Tononi’s evidence. EEG recordings have shown that brain excitability increases during the day after a good night’s sleep.

But a full night of sleep does not always bring positive effects for all. In an additional study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found that men who do not have healthy sleeping habits are at a greater risk for Type 2 diabetes.

In testing 788 healthy men and women, researchers found that when men got either too much sleep or too little sleep, their glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity decreased. No connection was found for women.

Researchers found that not getting enough sleep, or sleeping too much, can harbor many negative health effects, including an increased risk of diabetes, which is also linked to sleep apnea. This illness, which happens when a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night, is prevalent in an estimated 18 million Americans.

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