Try as you might, it is impossible to go without sleep, sooner or later you’re bound to fall asleep. But why is sleep indispensable?
There have been various experiments conducted on lab rats, leading to a conclusion: complete sleep deprivation leads to death even faster than starvation. Sleeplessness can destroy the body, and after a certain point it’s virtually impossible to prevent sleep.
If you’re sleep deprived, you first become irritable, then forgetful. Without sleep it gets harder and harder to concentrate, and the simplest task becomes impossible to complete, not to mention something more complex, like driving a car. Extended periods of sleep deprivation also lead to reduced immune system response, fluctuating blood pressure and changes in metabolism.
However, sleep can’t really be utterly understood; there ‘s no obvious chemical change, such as the buildup of carbon dioxide when we don ‘t breathe, to explain its effects. The body simply shuts down when we sleep, while the brain keeps going.
More than fifty years ago, scientists discovered two distinct brain stages during sleep: rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non- REM sleep. While in the REM sleep, obviously, the eyes move rapidly beneath their lids, during non-REM sleep the brain seems to go into a slower state. Breathing and heartbeat stay regular, and few dreams occur.
During REM sleep, the brain is very active and neurons seem to react almost as they do when awake, and dreams occur in this part of the cycle. When we dream, the parts of the brain that control motion in the body operate almost as they do in the waking state; however, neurotransmitters that carry signals from the brain to the muscles are inhibited, except for those linked to motion of the eyes.
Non-REM sleep is a period of lower metabolic rate and lower brain temperature. If during REM sleep the neurotransmitters are turned off, but the cells function normally, during non-REM sleep the brain can restock enzymes necessary for functioning properly. REM sleep periods may be the time during which the key links in the neurons can be restored, and, according to the researchers, these links control mood and learning. Moreover, sleep is also necessary for the brain to organize memories and data from the day, and to develop as the rest of the body is cut out of the process.
Bottom line, you really can’t go without sleep. You can last a while without food, but complete sleep deprivation will kill you without a doubt. You need sleep to function and survive, and without it the brain cannot do anything. Even though sometimes we wish the day had more hours, and we ignore sleep for other “more important” activities, sleep deprivation will only make everything worse.