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Do I Really Need Eight Hours of Sleep Each Night?

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/25/2007 | Health

What if you were told that there is no definitive answer for why we need to sleep? Your initial reaction might be, of course we need to sleep! Health professionals and news reports are always advising us to get our eight hours each night.

While it is true that we wouldn't get very far in our daily lives without a good night's sleep, the specific scientific reasons we need it are not completely understood or proven and as a result several theories exist surrounding the purpose of sleep. Current theories suggest that we sleep for a number of reasons. Popular belief is that regular good-quality sleep results in a restorative process in the body that helps renew and protect vital functions within the body. Another benefit is the enhancement sleep appears to have on the brain by increasing memory and reasoning capabilities. There are even some who think the reason for sleep goes back to an ancient time where it served as a protective feature to allow man to remain safe from his natural predators.

Although we regularly rely on scientific findings and look for absolute proof to support the need for sleep, whether such findings exist or not is really irrelevant to a tired person in need of some rest. At some level, we all know sleep is important because we spend practically a third of our lives doing it. In fact, it is so much a part of a healthy person's life that we rarely think about it until something goes wrong with the normal sleep cycle.

While most people can get by on a skimpy or even missed night's sleep on occasion, there are some definite signals that poor sleep habits will leave. A repeated lack of sleep results in a definite decline in one's mental capabilities. Without proper rest it becomes difficult to think and communicate clearly. Further, reaction times become slower and can pose a danger to the sleep-deprived individual and others if they are involved in driving a car or operating a piece of equipment during this time.

Of course some of the less severe side effects of sub-optimum sleep include crankiness and short tempers. While no one is likely to be physically hurt by these symptoms, feelings and relationships are definitely at risk. It is likely the risks go well beyond our current awareness since studies have linked disease prevention and healthy weight maintenance with adequate sleep as well. Sleep research will continue on into the future and is sure to uncover more information in the process.

For now, it is safe to say that sleep is healthy and results in a feeling of well-being that cannot be compared to anything available on any market at any price. It really doesn't matter whether specific benefits can be proven without a doubt when your own body certainly understands the benefits associated with a good night's sleep each and every night.