Putting your head down

A rally car splashing through water

Humans spend eight hours stored on a shelf. Every day. That’s one third of their day – and ultimately a third of their lives. That’s 30 of every 90 years. Weird, isn’t it? I didn’t write last night, but I did spend time thinking about this.

As youngsters, sleep resistance is a very real thing. We will do anything to avoid going to bed at night, taking that nap or even just getting into bed. We grow out of it though, getting teenagers out of bed is near impossible and the older we get the more we love our naps.

It is an odd thing to do though, lying prone for several hours at a time with our eyes closed and oblivious to the world around us. Why, why is this the appropriate method for resting?

Simply lying down is enough to rest our muscles and even dimmer light would rest our eyes, but shutting down our entire physiological system for a third of ever day in order to operate efficiently doesn’t seem a logical thing to do. Also, why lying down, specifically?

We lie on a bed, our recharging shelf, and wake up sore. What’s the point of lying down when, even on a quality mattress, when the result is that we are going to hurt anyway? And in human history, the mattress has been around for a relatively short space of time when compared with sleeping on a hard surface or even the ground.

I did some digging on the subject. One of the theories about why we sleep (and there are a few, but far less fact than you would think since we’ve been doing this since the dawn of mankind) is that it is about the conservation of energy. Well, sleeping is obviously going to conserve energy but as long as we keep consuming food we don’t need to conserve energy in the first place.

Then there is the idea that growth is part of the sleep cycle, but that only really counts while we are still growing which would make sleep largely redundant once we’ve reached maturity. There’s a bunch of other factors with varying degrees of importance that have to do with regeneration, the supply of hormones and other physical properties of our bodies.

There are two things that stood out during my reading. The first is that of brain function. When your brain rests, it helps to improve brain plasticity – and this means your neutrons are able to organise more effectively. Your memories are shuffled about, short-term memories get stored as long-term memories and the information you don’t need to hang on to is erased.

Then there’s the business of our emotional well-being, surprise, surprise it’s all about the brain again. It seems that brain activity increases in areas that regulate emotion. The result is that we handle stress better during the day – and being sleep-deprived means we react badly.

Sleep isn’t just about the duration, but also the quality. When it comes to quality, this means an uninterrupted and undisturbed sleep cycle which allows the daily reset required to allow us to function optimally for the other two-thirds of every day.

Here’s the thing, we use a third of our time in preparation for the two-thirds so it makes sense that we do the best job we can at it. With that sentiment I will leave you to get on with your preparations while I go and do mine.

On a final note, what do you call a French man wearing sandals?
Filipe Phillope.

Author: Morné Condon

Automotive journalist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, following new models, old cars, car clubs and motorsport. My interests are not restricted to the automotive environment, although this is where I am mostly to be found.

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