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I haven't slept for a day, but feel fine. It is sometimes assumed that one needs 8 hours of sleep each night, but I think this is sometimes not true.

Is it okay to get no sleep one night and then 8-9 hours sleep the next night, as long as it only happens occasionally (e.g., once a month)?

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I'd say you can manage with 4 hours per day, but then you would sleep a bit more during the weekend. If you're interested in the topic you could try searching for relevant books about sleep deprivation on goodreads.com - I'm sure there's something for everyone :) –  SkyHiRider Dec 20 '13 at 8:16
    
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Here's why people need to sleep:

The brain does its "cleaning up" during sleep. As cells in the nervous system are active, waste products are produced. In the rest of the body, waste removal is carried out by the lymphatic system, but this system does not extend to the brain. Instead, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) must be pumped through the brain tissue in order to flush waste back into the circulatory system where it can be excreted by the liver. Pumping CSF seems to require a great deal of energy, and researchers speculate that this energy expenditure is incompatible with the intense metabolic demands of brain cells during wakefulness. Also, cells in the brain shrink considerably during sleep, resulting in a 60% increase in interstitial space which allows CSF to wash more freely through the brain tissue. The consequence is significantly faster clearance of neurotoxic waste (e.g., β-amyloid).

  1. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/373
  2. http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/4/147/147ra111
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Could you summarize the information in the papers within your answer, please? –  Chuck Sherrington Dec 24 '13 at 23:08
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The "cleaning" hypothesis is just one, and it's a rather new one. The debate about the function of sleep has been going on for a long time, and the community has not settled on maintenance cleaning being the answer. There are also rest hypotheses (that neural cells need rest, but can't rest individually because they're coupled to other neurons, so they have to rest in large groups, requiring sleep) and there's also a hypothesis that sleep serves a memory and learning function (consolidation processes between hippocampus and cortex) –  Keegan Keplinger Apr 17 at 14:02
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As mentioned in one of the TED talks by Russell Foster, we need sleep not only for resting or cleaning up, but also for developing memories.

In addition, a good sleep has also requirements (mostly environmental); e.g. no-light, no-noise room etc.

Here is the talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep.html

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