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Sleeping What is it About All of us know what sleep is We know how it feels The meaning of the word is generally not questioned in ordinary conversation and we do not have to look it up in the dictionary But no one knows what sleep really is Once we get beyond the simple level of recognizing a superficially quiet state that is very different from wakefulness we find that the major questions about the nature of sleep are largely unanswered Three questions can be asked to provoke an understanding of sleep What happens to us while we sleep At a time before sleep was studied scientifically laymen and intellectuals alike thought they knew the answer ie that sleep is a state in which everything simply slowed down or stopped That answer is wrong Although our bodies move less and we make less noise while we sleep there are many complex changes in our brains and minds during sleep which cannot be described as a simple reduction of activity For example there are nerve cells in our brains which fire 5 to 10 times more frequently during certain sleep stages than during wakefulness Why do we sleep For millennia mankind thought it knew the answer If sleep is a state of inactivity then it must be for rest That answer is probably wrong A few sleep scientists still believe that is true but most doubt it More activity during wakefulness does not reliably produce more sleep and physical rest does not remove the urge to sleep-if anything it increases the urge Most answers to the question of why we sleep are theories not facts What are the mechanisms of sleep So long as we believed that sleep was a state of inactivity that we needed for rest there was no need to worry about the mechanisms of sleep or about how it got started and was maintained Functions Para
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