Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why Do We Need to Sleep

What is something that you do that takes up more than a third of your day? Sleep! In fact, the average human spends about one third of their life sleeping! Children in elementary school and grade school need approximately ten to eleven hours of sleep each day. Babies and infants sleep around sixteen to seventeen hours a day. Adults sleep around eight hours a day. But why do we spend so much time sleeping each day when we could be doing other things?

Most kids have a very busy day: you wake up in the morning, go to school, go to sports or dance classes, go to music practice, ride your bike around the neighborhood, and maybe even just run around and play with your friends. By the end of the day, your body gets very tired. Sleeping is a chance for your body to catch up and regain the energy needed to be active again tomorrow. The brain also takes this time to analyze all that happened that day and categorizes it. If you do not get enough sleep, your body will respond by being tired the next day.

If you don't get enough sleep the night before, you might find yourself finding it difficult to take a test or be as active. Scientists have recently found that children who get enough sleep each night have better immune systems. This means that sleeping is healthy for your body and keeps you from getting sick! Sleep is also important for growing children because that is the time when the body rests and repairs itself.

Sleep is a mysterious thing to most people. After all, at night, we just close our eyes, maybe dream a little, and then wake up the next morning! What was our body doing the whole time? First, your brain tells your body to calm down and relax. Next comes light sleep, where you might still be easily woken up. Then comes a deeper sleep called "slow wave," which is harder to be woken up and some people may sleepwalk or sleep-talk at this point. The final stage of sleep is called REM, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. During this stage, people's eyes move quickly under their eyelids but their bodies are still sleeping and relaxed. Eye movement is an indication of dreaming and REM is the time when people dream. Scientists do not know exactly why we dream but they think it might be the brain trying to sort out what happened during the day. Your dreams might indicate what is worrying you or what you are particularly happy about. We repeat this process of light sleep to REM about every hour and a half until we wake up in the morning.

Now that we learned about the importance of sleep, here are some tips to help you get the sleep you need. Try to go to sleep at the same time each night; this lets your body know what and when to expect to sleep. Avoid foods and sodas with a lot of caffeine and sugar, this can keep you from going to sleep. Finally, Halloween is over and you should not be watching scary TV shows or movies right before going to sleep. This might make it more difficult to fall asleep and it might give you bad dreams at night.

Little Lion Experiment:

Do you think you can see a person dreaming? Maybe you won't be able to see that person's actual dream but you might be able to tell if he or she is dreaming! Remember REM? When there is rapid eye movement while someone is sleeping, he or she is probably dreaming.

Try and get a friend, sibling or parent to close their eyelids and move their eyes around. You should be able to tell that their eyes are moving under their eyelids. Once you are able to tell when somebody's eyes are moving, see if you can catch a person actually dreaming! While a family member is sleeping or taking a nap, quietly watch to see if they have any eye movement. Remember to be very quiet and not wake this person up. If he or she is still in the light sleep stage, you will need to be very very quiet. If you see eye movement, wait until the person wakes up to ask him if he can remember his dream. It's okay if he can't, we don't remember most of our dreams.

Now try this on your pet dog or cat. Do animals dream? If so, what do you think they are dreaming about?