In your dreams: The mysteries of sleep

We all know that we need it – and most of us want more than we get. But no one has ever been able to explain why we sleep, or what makes us dream.

Why do we sleep? More than 80 years after the world's first sleep laboratory opened in Los Angeles, and in spite of intensive investigations of the sleeping brain, we still do not know the answer. Sleeping and dreaming remain among the greatest mysteries of the human organism – essential to life, yet inexplicable and frustratingly unproductive.

We spend one-third of our lives asleep. Imagine the possibilities if we could do without it. It would be the equivalent of adding 25 or 30 years to the average life-span – an enormous gain, at the expense of nothing more than the loss of slumber.

The idea exerts a strong fascination for scientists and lay people alike, and it is investigated in a new exhibition, Sleeping and Dreaming, at the Wellcome Collection, which opens today.

Presented in a dark and dramatically lit space, more than 200 exhibits chart the scientific exploration of sleep, and the social and cultural areas of our lives to which it is linked. They include art works by Goya, Henry Fuseli and Catherine Yass.

While sleep is essential to life, most of us feel we do not get enough of it – even those with homes and beds to go to. We are a nation of insomniacs, with two-thirds of the population complaining they cannot sleep. Insomnia is so common that doctors say the preoccupation with it is now itself a medical problem. The greatest enemy of sleep is worry about not getting enough of it. Most people who lose sleep will be able to recover it the next night, and will be able to cope in the meantime.

Source - Independent

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