We have always thought that sleep was simply to allow the body to rest, but it appears that it has more to do with laying down new memories and learning.
The amount of energy that is saved during sleep is negligible it seems, so there must be another reason.
The real reason we sleep, scientists believe, is to allow the brain to learn new skills and insights as we experience life.
The proposed link between formation of new memories and sleep is supported by the fact that we need less sleep as we age.
Newborns, who are hit with an avalanche of new information, sleep up to 16 hours, while adults sleep for about 8 hours.
Newborns are learning a language, and trying to make sense of all the sensory input that is coming at them, so it makes sense that they need a lot of sleep to process all of this data, while closing the eyes and preventing new information from coming in.
it appears there is also a strong link between sleep and the need to ‘flush’ potentially harmful proteins out of the brain, such as amyloid b proteins that are linked with Alzheimer’s. Brain cells shrink during sleep allowing more space for protein flushing.
Interview here with Declan Meehan on the East Coast FM Morning Show (23/1/14)