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Should we consider sleep as a "System Inefficiency"?

If we look at Human Beings from a system perpective don't you think "Sleeping" 8 hrs a day is too much of a "Downtime" w.r.t system productivity ? Or are we processing data in our mind during sleep that helps us increase runtime output?

  • Oct 1 2011: Sleep is not a system inefficiency but a necessity considering the architecture of the brain. Brain is not a fixed hardware device, and long term memories require rewiring of the neurons. This can only be done efficiently when new inputs are not being received, ie in sleep.

    The memories in the brain pass through certain milestones - first a fragile memory representation is created. Then they are consolidated (in a slow iterative offline process) and finally they are integrated (similar concepts are linked together).

    Studies have established that sleep is essential for consolidation and integration of memories after learning and in preparing the brain for learning.

    Memories have emotions attached to them. As we sleep the negative memories are consolidated first (in the first two hours), then neutral and then positive. Positive memories would not be converted to long term memories if one sleeps less. There is a high degree of correlation between sleep disorders and clinical depression. Studies have also established that sleep debt leads to emotional instability and mood swings.

    Through fmri and pet scans it has also been proven that sleep places the memories into more efficient locations.

    This way of creating memories gives rise to creativity.
    (As an example, assume that memory integration has occurred.
    Then during retrieval voltage in one memory, would activate the surrounding memories (which have something in common) and this can give rise to saying a sentence like -
    "how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child."
    (here, disappointment at child's behaviour lights up pain, which gives voltage to area storing the word sharpness, than to one storing serpent's tooth and the region in the brain hierarchically above this would then make sense of all these voltages to say this sentence.))

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      Oct 2 2011: Thanks for sharing this information! It is very enlightening, as all your contributions...
      It is obvious to me that if we see humankind as a group of robots with given assignments, sleep would be a system failure, or at least a waste of time and reduction in productivity. I also see those robots going to the landfill soon, and being replaced by new ones which will follow the same fate.
      I am thankful to be a fallible human that lives, loves, learns, works, and SLEEPS!
      • Oct 2 2011: thanks for your kind words :), as undeserved as they may be..
        yes, those with given assignments or those on a 'joyless quest for joy', see sleep as time taken out of their ledger of life, little realizing that lack of sleep can make one sick, grouchy, dumb and fat.. :)
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      Sep 28 2011: Great point Nafissa!
      This is so true that I used to tell my students when I was TAing at a local university all about this process just before exam time. I pleaded with them to study before the last day and if they did study that last day to make sure that they slept to integrate what they were learning.Without the sleep to allow its encoding that knowledge would not be available to them. My students were always the top performers on exams.
    • Sep 28 2011: Agreed...but has anyone researched on how to reduce this "downtime" without compromising the effectiveness (and obviously health)..?? Something like improvising on Edison's sleep pattern. I could find very few material on any experiments being done towards reducing the sleep time without affecting effeciency / output.
      Most of the article / research papers published are uni-directional ie towards emphasizing on advantages of sleeping long hours. After all I personally support Edison's view on sleeping that life is too short to be sleeping and dreaming long hours ;-)
  • Sep 28 2011: We are indeed processing all the data our brain has "sucked in" during the day. In fact, research has shown that most people who supposedly get by on four hours of sleep or less are considerably more inefficient than people who sleep what they "should" (estimates range from 8 to 10 hours a day!), and quite less effective than they think they are. In fact, many people who sleep very little "shut down" without even realizing it (a sort of micro fugue state: blank staring eyes, not all there, random distractions; the clasic "Huh?" syndrome). We are a finely tuned mechanism; nature doen't fool around when it comes to what is necessary for our organism!
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    Sep 29 2011: This question demonstrates the disconnect between data and wisdom that E.O. Wilson so eloquently speaks, "we are drowning in data while starving for wisdom".

    Sleep and the unconsciousness are the 'yin and yang' of being awake and conscious. They both are critically important to any being.

    It's our disconnected modern society that has truly become the problem, as we have substituted "progress" for "reverence", a Faustian bargain for future generations.
    • Sep 29 2011: Okay that's one proven universal truth that you've explained.....while the 'yin and yang' is absolutely true to the sense that nature is built that quest is to figure out if there's a way we can be awake and conscious for a longer time than we are a way reducing "Yin" to enhance "Yang".....breaking the existing equilibrium to be in a better state....after all I believe this is what evolution has always done to nature...disturb the existing balanced state to reach a better level...!
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    Sep 28 2011: I love this thought and I find it really amusing to think about sleep as a system downtime! But at the same time, I love to sleep and I love to dream. In fact, I think enough sleep is something we can give our bodies every day -- a sort of present, if you will. We know that we work better and that we are in a better mood when we have had enough sleep. I rarely get eight full hours of sleep, but every time I actually have enough time to sleep so long, I am delighted. So sleep is a lot more than just our bodies restoring energy or our brains processing what has happened during the day. It's also a very easy (at least for most of us) way to contribute to our own happiness.
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    Oct 4 2011: The body/mind is a very fine tuned mechanism that runs better when kept in good condition and well maintained. Sleep is healing, a time for the cells in the body to regenerate, recharge, and a time for the mind to process information. While some individuals need more or less sleep to function well, I think there are plenty of "sleep studies" which show us that some sleep is needed for efficiency.
  • Oct 2 2011: The brain is our specialty, but the visual sense also dominates. We don't see well at night, however, and on this planet it's dark an average of a third of the day. The moon helps ephemerally and might have lead to nighttime parties and ceremonies. The invention of fire in the community probably contributed to wilder parties.

    The light bulb changed it all and because we're so adaptable, we've become partly nocturnal in our customs and routines. Of course our sleep mode evolved long before artificial lighting. Now we're in wonderment as to why we sleep one third of the day. A long power outage would no doubt provide a deeper insight.

    Most animals except the nocturnal predators sleep at night because they evolved on this planet.
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      Oct 3 2011: Funny, we were actually considering this with some friends, thinking if we would dare to just have dinner before dark and go to sleep at sundown. We remembered with satisfaction the last huge hurricane that left our area without electricity for a whole month. What a wonderful time! We communed, we shared, we reached out, we did without all non-essentials, and we rediscovered priorities -including sleep. Eventhough we had a generator and a firepit to sit around and play games, these were precious resources that we wanted to preserve, so we went to sleep super early. How great were those days!
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        Oct 4 2011: That sounds great, thanks for sharing.
  • Oct 1 2011: Haha! 8 hour downtime is kinda inefficient I guess. If only we had 2 brains, one could work while the other one rests. Or, another solution would be a "fast sleep mode" for example while you wait for the bus, you could switch off and sleep for 15 mins.

    But I think sleeping is also a kind of pleasure. I mean seriously! What feels better than a Sunday morning lazing in bed? And do we really need to maximize our efficiency? Call me lazy, but I'm pretty content with my inefficient life! Haha!
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    Sep 29 2011: I believe the main purpose of sleep is rather recovering than processing information.
    Therefore not being able to fully recover in less than 7-8 hours (on average) could be seen as a room for improving our efficiency. But I wouldn´t say that this is inefficiency since there is no standard to compare this level of efficiency with. And it is difficult to define what is the purpose of the human machine in order to say whether sleeping impairs its fulfilment.

    It would be helpful to observe whether our evolution decreases our need of sleeping with the passage of generations. Apparently this would involve quite a longitudinal study. :)
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    Sep 28 2011: Not everyone needs sleep! As a matter of fact, no one really understands why... Even microorganisms sort of sleep apparently... but why? There's no telling.

    Man goes 30 years without sleep:
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      Sep 29 2011: I've always maintained that sleep is overrated......I get much from sleeping 5 hours a day...everything in moderation!
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    Sep 28 2011: Is anyone efficient at the same level all the time while s/he is awake ?
    Drop of efficiency while awake , what should we call that?
    Are we machine only just to work and wrok ?
    Is that our sole purpose of life?
    • Sep 28 2011: I would say efficiency is again comparative...the comparison here is between a machine that can operate 24 hrs without any downtime and a human who can only do the same work for maximum 12 hours a day...!!

      Drop of effciency while awake is as good as sleeping is what i feel :-) but again effciency loss is only when we stay awake and we are idle...still i would say mind cannot be idle for too long.

      I feel that staying awake will help us enjoy the world around us for a longer time....humans are configured so superbly well that we can enjoy things that we do .....including work.

      Staying awake may infact help us acheiving the purposes of life faster..!! What say?
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        Sep 29 2011: Staying awake but unaware about purpose will end in to life without purpose.

        Staying awake with a tired active mind (agree as you said "mind can't be idle") , usually not efficient enough to focus, rather it works hapazardly , at least that what happens to me.......

        In my langauge we have poetry that says something like below

        Work and rest , go hand in hand
        As do go eyes with eye lash....
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    Sep 28 2011: We may evolve ( or already evolved) into creatures that need less than 8 hrs of sleep. Then some people will find a way to work more ( some already take pills or use extra caffeine )in order to get more. It is in our nature to work harder to live better. Still capitalist system pushes us into greater expectations out of our working performance. Either way it will end up pretty bad I guess.
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    Oct 4 2011: I don't think anyone can say much about sleep yet. A lot of research has been done without much results.
    For me I know that there are different kinds of sleep, different kinds of being awake and of dreams.
    One thing is for sure and that's the better your sleep, the better your wake.

    Maybe sleep is like the internet. If you are awake you are detached and programs stuck and slutter and at night you connect again and all is cleaned and updated.
  • Oct 4 2011: sometimes I HAVE ALSO FELT THAT SLEEPING 8hrs is too much..& weather it slowdown my output per I decided to findout what's really is the correct .But weather I slept for 8hrs or less I feel like I gained the same output.
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    Oct 4 2011: Prabodh --

    Good rest not only increases output time. It also improves outputs. Like computers, humans crash when overtasked.

  • Oct 1 2011: People sleep because it's nighttime. Animals and one celled creatures too.
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    Sep 29 2011: Hello Prabodh PS,
    I spent a year in Bangalore in 1968-69 with my college. It holds a special place in my awareness. Its good to connect once again, through you.

    Regarding the Yin and yang, I see it less a dichotomy between consciousness and unconsciousness but within both.

    It's our ego's that separate reality into our boxes, when in reality it's an ever changing whole. I believe part of the trap enters when we place our values (good/bad, fast/slow, better state/or worse) on the magic of life while seeing ourselves as separate.
  • Sep 28 2011: Thank u Erol for posting ur thoughts..I've heard of people who sleep for less than 3 hrs a day and are successfull in their fields and i know people who say they can't concentratre if they dont get proper sleep..wondering whether there's a research around being "efficiently awake"