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The World of Sleep

Sleep is something that we all do, but we actually know very little about it. Scientists generally agree that sleep is very important and that we do less of it today than we used to. Indeed, in earlier times, particularly in agricultural and hunter gatherer societies, people generally woke up at sunrise and went to bed shortly after sunset, as daily activities before electricity often required daylight, and agriculture in particular is dependent on the sun and its cycles. With the rise of industrialization, more and more people began working in factories and other places where the work¬day did not depend on the sun, and time for sleep decreased. Although we now limit the working day with employment legislation, our high-tech society, which has electric lights and broadband internet, gives us plenty of opportunities to work and play into the wee hours of the night, limiting our time for sleep. But how important is sleep? Well, that can depend on who you are. Babies and toddlers, who are of course still growing, need the most amount of sleep. This is why parents give children naps and notice a remarkable change in behavior whenever they don't do so. Adolescents also require more sleep than adults, as they are also in a period of life that is marked by intense growth. So stereotypes about lazy teenagers may be a bit unfair. By contrast, adults beyond the age of 25 generally need less sleep. But people who are ill can require more sleep regardless of their age. Perhaps the strangest fact that researchers have found is that sleep does not really mean rest. Our bodies use about the same amount of energy for sleep as for sitting on the couch. But scientists now believe that the brain is organizing the information that it's gathered during the day as we sleep, so a few days with no sleep can significantly harm your ability to think and remember new facts and ideas. This is still an area of science that requires more research, and how exactly this process of information¬ organizing relates to dreaming, or a lack thereof, is still a bit of a mystery. Then sleep is an essential component of our lives and without it many vital functions would not work properly and it also improves some brain skills such as attention and concentration.

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