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How Do We Fall Asleep?

Getting enough sleep is really important for the development of your brain, muscles, and emotional health.
Victor Brave

Why do people need to sleep? How do we actually go to sleep? How does sleeping get rid of toxins in the brain? And how come when it's nighttime I don't want to go to sleep but when it's morning I don't want to wake up?! Those questions and more with pediatric sleep psychologist Dr. Lisa Meltzer.

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We know lots of kids listen to podcasts (including ours) to help relax after a long day, which might explain why we've gotten so many questions about sleep! Dr. Meltzer tackles them all with us in this episode.

"Why do people need to sleep?" - Ira, 7, South Orange, NJ

Scientists are still trying to fully understand why we sleep, but there are a lot of theories.

The first one is the evolutionary theory of sleep, which is that early humans were safer because they were inactive at night. people were probably safer tucked up in a cave or shelter sleeping through the night instead of being out and about in the dark when there were big animals with better eyesight also roaming around.

"But when you're sleeping, you do notice a little bit of the world around you can hear certain sounds," Meltzer says. "Same thing back in those times; you would want enough consciousness, awareness of stuff going on around you to protect you."

Another theory is that we sleep to conserve energy. When we sleep we use fewer calories, our temperature drops down and we are given time to relax.

"That allows your body to restore itself. You're working your muscles when you're awake. When you rest, it allows them to heal. When you get a cold, at night it allows your immune system to fight off those bad germs.

"One of the first things that happens when you fall asleep is growth hormone is released. Growth hormone helps you grow. You literally grow in your sleep! That's another reason why sleep is so important."

Sleep is also important to your brain development. Kids' brains develop in different ways as they get older.

"In very young children, the areas around language and vision are most active during sleep because that's the part of you that's developing during the day," explains Meltzer. "When you're school age, the parts of the brain that spend all day learning things like math and reading, those parts of your brain start to develop. And when you're a teenager, the front part of your brain that works on decision making and keeping your mood calm, that's the part of your brain that's most active during sleep."

For more consistent sleep, Dr. Meltzer recommends having a consistent bed time and wake time, no screens in the bedroom, and a cool dark bedroom.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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