Written by Kevin Morton
One of the great paradoxes of human existence lies in the fact that despite spending nearly one third of our lives sleeping, very few people have even a basic understanding of how this fundamental part of their lives works.
In fact, by briefly reading through the rest of this sleep essentials guide, you will have made yourself more knowledgable about sleep than 99.9% of the rest of the world.
Indeed, until Nathaniel Kleitman began studying circadian rhythms and the regulation of sleep and wakefulness in the 1920s, sleep as a field of study did not really even exist.
That is a rather amazing thing when you really think about it. While great thinkers throughout the past have recorded numerous personal insights into the nature of sleep, and dreams have undoubtedly been a mainstay subject in literary pieces, it's a bit odd that no scientist before the 20th century that we know of ever embarked to study sleep more objectively.
Of course, before computers facilitated the use of polysomnography, such empirical study would have called for the scientist to stay up the length of the night to observe the sleeper, something that Dr. Dement ended up doing for the first time in the 1950s.
Maybe this is part of the reason sleep was never formally studied before--it was just too impractical or unorthodox a thing to stay up the whole night to watch others sleep. What do you think?
Kleitman is today considered the father of sleep research. After getting the ball rolling in the early 20th century, he worked extensively with two students in the 1950s--Eugene Aserinsky and our own professor, William Dement.
Aserinsky and Kleitman first documented the presence of rapid eye movements (REM) during sleep in 1953.
Dement went on to, among other things, extensively study the link between these eye movements and dreaming, eventually using a series of objective measurements to classify sleep into different stages. We will discuss these measurements and stages in subsequent sleep steps.
Since Kleitman's original research, and especially in the last handful of decades, sleep scientists have learned an amazing amount of information about the mechanisms and nuances of sleep. However, the vast majority of that knowledge does not permeate to the general public.
Much of what sleep experts feel should be commonplace knowledge in our society is simple and straightforward, yet most people do not know about it. Much of this education gap is due to the fact that basic sleep knowledge has not made its way into the mainstream education systems in any meaningful way.
Despite the fact that sleep disorders are among the world's most common illnesses (by far!), hardly any attention is paid to them in the medical schools that educate our doctors. Most of the physicians who are treating us lack basic knowledge about many of the ailments that ail us most! As a result, tens of thousands of Americans and millions more around the world are suffering and dying constantly due to sleep related problems even though effective treatments and cures are readily available.
In fact, by reading through the rest of this Sleep Essentials Quick Guide, you will possess more knowledge about sleep and sleep disorders than many doctors. Thus, when sleep-related problems arise in you or people you know (and they will, to some degree or another) you will be equipped enough to recognize that the issues are sleep related and point them in the right direction to get treated. (How is sleep important to you? Let us know!)
In addition to what Dr. D had to say above about sleep having the potential to impair the waking state, having knowledge about the mechanisms of sleep can also be used for just the reverse: optimizing the time your awake!
How can you do this? Well, your level of alertness throughout the day (and therefore typically your productivity, safety, emotional engagement, etc.) is governed by two processes that we will discuss in the other sleep steps. If you know how these processes work you can exercise a good deal of control over them and how they affect your alertness.
By learning about sleep you are empowering yourself to live life to the fullest. Now that you have an understanding of the importance of sleep, the remaining sleep steps will be able to take you the rest of the way towards this empowerment. Ready to continue on?
Or select from the Sleep Essentials Quick Guide Table of Contents
To sleep experts, the importance of sleep in terms of how we feel is clear. But what about for you personally? Do you have feelings, one way or the other, about the importance of sleep? Share them with us below.
Click on the links below to read other thoughts regarding the importance of sleep. They were all contributed by visitors to this page, just like yourself.
Not A Waste Of Time!
I used to think sleeping was a waste of time. I was resistant to going to sleep at night. Later, in my thirties, I lived alone for a while and discovered …
I Find My Dreams More Pleasant Than My Reality
I sometimes wish to stay sleeping just because I find my dreams more pleasant than my reality. I work overnight from 10pm-7am with random days throughout …
Better-Sleep-Better-Life.com is an educational resource with information on improving sleep habits and effectively managing sleep disorders for better health and greater joy in life. And what's more important than health and joy?
Once you have a grasp of the importance of sleep, SleepDimension.com can provide you with even more information about the journey through the night, including the sleep problems that sometimes arise therein.
Welcome! This site is continuously being created by students of Dr. William C. Dement's Sleep And Dreams course at Stanford University.
We made this site as a call to action for people all over the world to live healthier, happier, safer, and more productive lives by learning about their own sleep. We have faith that reading the information provided on this site will motivate you to be smart about your sleep deprivation and strategic about your alertness in order to live life to your fullest, most energetic potential.
In fact, we challenge you to do so! What do you say, are you up for the challenge?
You spend close to 1/3 of your life sleeping! Not knowing about that much of your life is rather foolish. (Learn more..)
Through knowledge of the mechanisms of sleep you can optimize your own sleeping patterns, and thereby improve your productivity, alertness, and relationships while awake! (Learn more..)
Dr. Dement's pioneering textbook has been the core text for Sleep and Dreams since 1980, but it has just recently been made available to the wider public for the first time.
In it you'll find a more detailed account of the most important things you need to know about sleep, alertness, dreams, and sleep disorders. Studies, statistics, plus plenty of Dr. Dement's classic anecdotes painting the history of sleep medicine.
A revolution in personal sleep tracking, the Zeo is a wireless headband that transmits your brainwaves in realtime to a dock (pictured here) or your smartphone. The result? You can wake up and see exactly what stages of sleep you were in during the night! Unprecedented personalized sleep knowledge.
Ever woken up paralyzed? A surprising number of us have, believe it or not. But few know the actual causes of this phenomenon, and fewer still how to exert control over it. Dream researcher and sleep paralysis expert Ryan Hurd shares breakthrough insights into how to do just that.
The information found on this page and throughout this site is intended for general information purposes only. While it may prove useful and empowering, it is NOT intended as a substitute for the expertise and judgments of healthcare practitioners.
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