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Holten: Do we really have to sleep?

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Holten: Do we really have to sleep?
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Why do we sleep? In order to rest you say. But why do we have to rest? What are we resting for?

After all, God didn’t have to invent us with that sleep mechanism included if he didn’t want to. He could have made us like giraffes, which only sleep for five minutes at a time about six times a day. And even then, their sleep isn’t deep because they do it standing up with one eye open and both ears perked up and flopping in the wind.

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Or he could have created us like he did my horses. Who only sleep about three hours a day in a lying down position, or sometimes when they lock their knees in place, like a Buckingham Palace guard or your average security dude, and doze lightly while standing up.

Nope, there’s no logical reason why we sleep except for one: brain plasticity.

That’s right. It’s all about the brain.

You see, for us to survive, we have to do two things: learn and remember. If we don’t, we’re meat.

And there are three steps to learning and remembering. First, there is acquisition, which is all about feeding the brain new information like, two plus two is four, that forgetting your wife’s birthday will never be forgiven and having beers with the boys on your wife’s birthday is a hanging offense.

Then there is consolidation, which is where a memory becomes stable or sticks to the wall like mud, gum or super glue so to speak.

Lastly, there is recall, which is all about having the ability to access information (while avoiding senior moments) after that memory has been rolled down an aisle, stored in some chamber and covered in cobwebs.

Each of these three steps is absolutely necessary for proper memory function. But here’s the clincher: Acquisition and recall occur only when you’re awake and, according to Mr. Research, memory consolidation only takes place during sleep. Memory consolidation apparently happens through “the strengthening of neural connections that form memories” and that only happens when you’re sawing logs.

In other words, Mr. Research thinks that specific characteristics of brainwaves occur during different stages of sleep and are the key to the formation of particular types of memory. So you’ve got to sleep for those memories to be properly stored.

Thus, you are basically a computer that has to be turned off and on again before any new software will properly download. How does that make you feel, a little impersonal and inhuman?

Then again, some people think that we sleep at night because of an innate survival function that we developed over time, which told us to sleep because it would put us out of harm’s way at times when we would be particularly vulnerable.

In other words, creatures on this planet that learned to stay still and quiet in the dark had an advantage over other animals that remained active because they didn’t have accidents in the dark and were not killed by predators. So through natural deduction, this behavior evolved to become what we now call sleep, slumber and shuteye.

Meanwhile, did you know that it only takes three days of sleep deprivation to cause a person to hallucinate and if you were to go for a longer period of time, the symptoms would worsen and in time, you would most likely die? In fact, rats forced to stay awake continuously eventually died, proving that sleep is definitely essential.

At the same time, it’s interesting to note that a portion of a Navy SEALs rigorous training program is what is commonly called “Hell Week,” when the trainees must engage in highly physical activities for about six days — with all of their hard work accomplished on about four hours of sleep for the entire week.

Yet, all I know is this: some people talk in their sleep and some lecturers talk while others sleep.

Still, I agree with Avery Sawyer, the author of “Notes to Self,” who said, “I think insomnia is a sign that a person is interesting.”

Holten is the manager of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Email him at kholten@thedickinsonpress.com.

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