I probably don’t need to tell people who juggle online studies, work and family that it is important to make sure you carve out enough time for sleep. We all know how spacey and “out of it” we feel when we miss sleep. Sleep deprivation can be very dangerous. Yet, recently, UCLA professor and sleep expert, Jerome Siegel questioned whether sleep had any correlation to physiological and neural functions. In short, do we really need to sleep?
Siegel points out that many species of animals experience periods of sleeplessness as part of their normal lives. And he questioned whether sleep may be more necessary for some species than others. Because, Siegle postulates, if some animals can endure long periods of sleeplessness while others simply cannot, there must not be one single purpose for sleeping that is the same across all species. He points to baby dolphins and whales that migrate for months without sleep. Yet on the other side of the coin, the Brown Bat sleeps roughly 20 hours a day. Both species do not seem to differ in their ability to survive and propagate in spite of the dramatic difference in sleep intake. Siegel’s best guess is that each species sleeps in accordance with cycles that best correlate to their interaction with their environment and that sleep cycles are dictated by how they best help the individual species to be efficient in their habitat. Thus, nocturnal animals like coyotes and raccoons sleep all day and awake at night when the hunting or foraging is best. Similarly, humans – with eyes that work far better when it is light – sleep at night when the sun is down because they operate with greater efficiency in the light of day to cultivate crops and hunt. But in today’s modern world, where we are not all involved in cultivating crops and hunting, and where we have developed artificial light sources, humans are not so tied to the daytime/nightime cycle of sleep and awakening. Does this mean we will slowly grow to need less and less sleep? Ask someone who is studying online while working and raising a family!