Why is sleep so important to us

Must See 27/11/2018

What's not to love about shutting down into a state of semi-consciousness, letting your muscles unclench and your mind empty?

For some it comes easy, but others? Not so much. 

How we get our shut-eye has changed over the years; the Greeks saw sleep as halfway between life and death. They were keen on the idea that sleep was when gods messaged us with answers to our questions. 

Fast-forward a millennia or so, and medieval people tried not to sleep because they worried about demonic possession.

Then in the Middle Ages, we actually used to have two sleeps a day. We'd crash when the sun went down then back up again around 3am for a wee pray, chopping wood by moonlight and have a literal roll in the hay.

Some weirdos even visited the neighbours, before heading back to the sack for sleep number two.

In the Industrial Revolution, gas-lit street lamps, then later the electric bulb, meant workdays got massive - 12 hours. 

That's when we transitioned into the sleep patterns we know today: one big chunk, so we could work that 40-plus-hour week - about then, our attitudes to sleep began to change.

Too much sleep is seen as a character flaw - for the weak, lazy or maybe teenagers. Modern society much prefers insomniac workaholics.

What does our sleep mean? 


In beginning of the 20th Century we got all science-y, working out how the world worked, then how we as humans worked - where better to start than our dreams.

Freud said dreams were repressed desires, overwhelming fears and our secret insecurities being filed away in the subconscious.

Carl Jung thought our dreams were a pathway to the collective unconscious shared by all people. 

Today, we realise a lack of sleep can actually be more important than diet or exercise.

The modern hotel industry makes $500 billion per year marketing itself as a restful oasis, rather than the party central it was back in the '80s.

Companies are even bringing back mini-naps in the workplace.

Tune in to the Project this week for more Sleep Week.