Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. They all live in a homeless man’s beard. Another trait they also share is the fact they occasionally go to sleep.
But what is sleep? The Oxford English Dictionary defines sleep as “The act of lying horizontally while tripping balls without narcotics”. This act involves losing consciousness for prolonged periods of times, then waking up with no recollection of the previous few hours. This is rather reminiscent of the effects of alcohol. However, most people experience this prone state of helplessness at least once per day, with or without an intact liquor cabinet.
So the real, more pertinent question is “why do we sleep?” Frankly, you’re an idiot for not asking that in the first place.
Given our expanding calorie intakes, surely we don’t sleep in order to recharge or store energy. We shovel enough into our gaping maws to ensure that we have an excess of reserves to burn off, especially with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. When your work involves ensuring that the office paperclips are categorised by colour and size, you’re not really burning off all that extra energy. In a hunter gatherer society, you can forgive a little tiredness if your average day involves slaying a furry elephant and avoiding rampant ebola. But in the era of mobility scooters, this is unforgivable.
We cannot attribute sleep to seasonal change either. Since we can build central heating systems within the Arctic Circle, we keep ourselves warm enough and well fed enough to survive even the harshest winter. Our ancestors may have needed to hibernate, but not us. Even as recent as a few decades ago, our grandparents used to hoard food supplies, bracken and twine, then settle down in their nest boxes to sleep the winter away. The added benefit of this was that we didn’t have to buy them Christmas presents.
So why on Earth do our bodies go into standby for seven hours a day? That’s time I could be spending catching up on Game Of Thrones, or staring idly at my Smartphone waiting for a retweet. The only benefit I can see to getting a healthy night’s sleep is to have some cool dreams.
Dreams come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Big, small, dry and wet, it seems that our brains make us tired in order to enter the dream state. Leading psychologists believe that dreams are an instrumental part of our cognitive development, and that dreams allow us to make sense of the things we’ve learned throughout the day. Dreams help us piece together the disparate pieces of information we receive and put them into a cohesive order. That’s why I had a dream where I was a dragon.
In fact, I do have a recurring dream where I am driving a bus. People I know such as friends and family keep getting on the bus and asking me to take them places. As I drive around I get more and more confused by the different destinations that I start swerving around, knocking over street signs like a muddled version of Grand Theft Auto, until I eventually just crash the bus into a wall.
If dreams actually mean anything, then why are their messages so vague? If there is something to be learned from our subconscious and our brains were so desperate to tell us something, why doesn’t the thought just pop into your head in plain English while you’re still awake? Dreams are often forgotten shortly after waking, so it doesn’t seem like the most efficient message delivery system. It’s like trying to tell someone their house is on fire by throwing the message through the blaze in the form of a paper airplane. Why not phone them?
The worst, most unpleasant sensations in life come from that place between being sleep and awake. Do you ever have that moment where, just as you’re about to drift off into a lovely slumberous snooze, you suddenly feel like you’re falling? I sleep on my front, so when I try and move my arms to steady myself and my arms don’t move, it feels especially jarring. Perhaps its nature’s way of putting us down a peg or two for evolving higher brain functions.
So it seems that sleep is important but we don’t fully know why. We should just accept that sleep is subject to a higher power beyond our understanding. That way, we cannot possibly be held accountable if we sleep in. Missing work completely due to sleeping all day is either an act of human nature, or an act of God. How can you possibly fire me for this?! You’ll be hearing from my union!