Why do we sleep?

We spend almost a third of our lives doing something we hardly understand.

AIA Vitality NZ

AIA Vitality NZ

AIA Vitality Staff writer

We can all vouch, from personal experience, that when we don’t get enough sleep we’re groggy, rundown, sluggish, and sometimes irritable. Not having enough rest means we find it difficult to make decisions, and we struggle to perform at full capacity – at work, or as a friend, partner or family member.

“Getting enough sleep” has become the holy grail of our society. We continuously claim we need more sleep, yet we’re bent on filling our days to the brim, neglecting the ritual of rest and wondering why we feel so tired.

Make your #onechange

Try using a sleep tracker app or device like Fitbit’s Flex 2 to note down how many hours of sleep you get in a week. If you need more – adjust your bedtime accordingly.

Tossing and turning

For some of us, the struggle for quality shut-eye arises from medical conditions. Health Navigator New Zealand reports that obstructive sleep apnea affects approximately 16,000 New Zealand adults, restless legs syndrome affects 15% of the population, while almost 30% of adults have reported significant symptoms of insomnia.

Modern society and learned habits may also play a part in sleep disruption. It’s undeniable that the development of new technologies has marred the quality of our sleep. It’s not uncommon for many adults to check their emails, or scroll through social media right before bed, however our late night screen time is sabotaging our sleep. The blue light emitted from a phone screen hinders the production of melatonin (the hormone that induces sleep) in the brain. Poor sleep is linked with anxiety and depression, while the inverse is also true – good sleep promotes positive wellbeing and happiness.

The science of sleep

But here’s the kicker: why we need so much sleep is still unknown, even to scientists who have dedicated their lives to working it out.

What we do know is that sleep is actually an active state. Many functions of the brain and body are actually more active during sleep than when we are awake.

To be able to say that sleep does this in order for the body to do that is difficult. What we do know is that when we’re asleep, our bodies relax, we go into a state of repair and our consciousness is partly suspended. In this way, sleep is thought to keep many physical organs healthy – such as the heart – as well as nurture our mental capabilities, helping us do things like store memories and organise thoughts.

Getting an appropriate amount of sleep can also work as a barrier against excessive hunger, stress, sickness and bugs.

Despite there being no scientific proof, we can feel that sleep helps us reboot. ‘Clean sleeping’ (that’s active dedication to regular high-quality, eight-hour rest) has been named the new ‘clean eating’. Sleep shouldn’t be considered a luxury nor an overindulgence; it’s as essential to the human body as food and water – we wouldn’t survive without it.

AIA Vitality NZ

AIA Vitality is a personalised, health and wellbeing program that supports you every day to make healthier lifestyle choices. Visit aiavitality.co.nz

The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.