We’re on a roll with Optimizing our sleep so I say we continue our little series. Today we’ll look at some fun facts about the idiosyncratic universality of sleep.
But first, let’s step back and remind ourselves just how fundamental sleep is to our Optimizing and well-being.
This passage from Matthew Walker’s fantastic book Why We Sleep (get it yet?), might be the most powerful distinction in the whole book: “I was once fond of saying, ‘Sleep is the third pillar of good health, alongside diet and exercise.’ I have changed my tune. Sleep is more than a pillar; it is the foundation on which the other two health bastions sit. Take away the bedrock of sleep, or weaken it just a little, and careful eating or physical exercise become less than effective, as we shall see.”
Eat. Move. Sleep?
Looks like it’s time to move our fundies around.
Let’s slide SLEEP into the foundation. Then put Eat and Move on top of that, eh?
With that important distinction, let’s have some fun with worms and one-eyed birds!!
Matthew says: “Theodosius Dobzhansky once said, ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.’ For sleep, the illuminating answer turned out to be far earlier than anyone anticipated, and far more profound in ramification.
Without exception, every animal species studied to date sleeps, or engages in something remarkably like it. This includes insects, such as flies, bees, cockroaches, and scorpions; fish, from small perch to the larger sharks; amphibians, such as frogs; and reptiles, such as turtles, Komodo dragons, and chameleons. All have a bona fide sleep. Ascend the evolutionary ladder further and we find all types of birds and mammals sleep: from shrews to parrots, kangaroos, polar bears, bats, and, of course, we humans. Sleep is universal.”
Did you know that worms sleep? Yep. And… They showed up during the Cambrian period. That makes sleep at least 500 million (!) years old.
Even aquatic animals that need to swim all day every day from birth to death sleep—some actually sleep with half their brain awake and the other half asleep. As Michael says, “Mother Nature had no choice. Sleep with both sides of the brain, or sleep with just one side and then switch. Both are possible, but sleep you must. Sleep is nonnegotiable.”
Then we have birds. Did you know that when birds are alone they sleep with one eye open? Crazy but true. One eye’s open, the other one’s shut—allowing half their brains to sleep while the other half gets a reboot.
What’s even more astonishing is that if you get a bunch of birds together and observe their sleep you might just see them line up in a row with the birds on the inside enjoying two-eyes-shut full sleep while the birds on the ends have one eye open and half their brains asleep. Best part? Midway through the sleep session the birds on the end will turn the other direction and shut the other eye to give the other half of their brain some sleep.
How’s that relate to us?
a) We’d be wise to remember that anything THAT universal MUST have an incredibly strong evolutionary reason for its existence. Violate millions of years of evolution at your own risk!
b) Ever wonder why you don’t sleep quite as well the first night you spend in a hotel? Research shows that “one half of the brain sleeps a little lighter than the other, as if it’s standing guard with just a tad more vigilance due to the potentially less safe context that the conscious brain has registered while awake.”
One more time: What’s one thing you ALREADY know you could be doing to Optimize your sleep?
Tonight the night to move from Theory to Practice?
+1z +1z +1z!!!
Unlock this Optimize +1 (and over 1,000 more) for free!
The Optimize membership used to be $100/year. It’s now free. No credit card required. No strings attached. Just more wisdom in less time.