Humans cannot live without sleep and will suffer from some immediate backlash if they ignore the primal urge to shut their eyes. In a recent Ted-Ed lesson, neuroscientist Dr. Claudia Aguirre outlined the physical, mental, and emotional consequences that could emerge from sleep deprivation. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a day, while babies need at least 10 hours, but 30 percent of adults and 66 percent of adolescents are reportedly sleep deprived.
Staying awake can affect a variety of physiological factors throughout the body. Chronic sleep deprivation results in daytime sleepiness, slower reflexes, poor concentration, and increased risk of car accidents. Long-term problems, which pose more severe health consequences include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and excessive weight gain. For the average person, sleep deprivation can lead to hormonal imbalance, illness, moodiness, and fatalities in extreme cases.
Sleep medicine is a relatively young field of study. The National Institutes of Health opened up the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in 1993 in order to study what happens during a third of our lives asleep and what would happen if we didn’t sleep. So why is sleep such a necessary part of survival?
After several years of studying sleep’s role, researchers figured out the molecule adenosine, along with other waste products build up inside of the brain the longer we stay awake. If they aren’t cleared away by means of sleep, they’ll overload the brain. During sleep, certain brain cells cue the glymphatic system, which is designed to flush away the brain’s waste products with cerebral spinal fluid. The restorative powers of sleep are complex and continually being discovered, but what researchers do know is sleep is a vital part of human’s daily lives.