We don’t get enough sleep, but we need it desperately! Time magazine recently had a cover story on sleep and why we need it, and here’s what the article uncovered. Let’s say you have a big report due in the morning, or a truckload of fish to be delivered, so you stifle your yawns and push through the night. Well, that yawn was the first sign that your brain has already started checking out for the night. After only 18 hours without sleep, your reaction time begins to slow down, and if you’re like most people, you’ll start experiencing micro-sleep. Those are moments when you zone out anywhere from two to 20 seconds. You’ll have to keep re-reading a page or you’ll drift out of your lane on the highway. Scary. By the 20 hour mark, your reaction time is roughly the same as someone who is legally drunk. You’ll start forgetting things, you’ll misspell things, or forget to set your parking brake on a hill. Bottom line: Sleep refreshes the mind.
Sleep allows the brain to consolidate, sort and file all the information gathered during the day. Sleep can also help you master any motor skills you may have learned, like playing the piano or riding a bike. What we need the most is slow wave sleep – which is the deepest sleep. Kids are champion slow wave sleepers – which is why you can carry a sleeping child from the car to bed without waking them. As we get older, we get less slow wave sleep. One neurobiologist cited in the article used this metaphor that makes a lot of sense. When you fall asleep, it’s like you’re leaving your house so the workmen can come in to renovate, and of course you don’t want to be in the house while the work is going on. That’s why we sleep. So we can mentally check out while the construction is going on. So get your Zs! You need them to perform at your peak.