There’s lots of “debate” within bread baking about this step. There’s actually a lot of “debate” throughout the process of bread baking because every baker (home, cottage, or professional) finds their own path to making their own bread. That’s an entirely different post for a later time. To me, the autolyse step is where all the magic starts. The gluten in your flour starts developing, and you don’t have to do anything. Time is doing it all for you. Your dough starts being more “extensible” which is a good thing later in the process.
You can look up the word “autolysis” to see where this word comes from, and it applies here. There’s an enzyme called protease that starts to degrade the protein in your flour, and an enzyme called amylase that begins to turn the starch in your flour to sugar. It’s sugar that your yeast (your wild yeast) needs to do it’s magic. You can google Raymond Calvel who discovered this process to learn more.
I digress really…. So your path to bread begins here. You can autolyse for as little as 30 minutes all the way to 3-5 hours; you can even autolyse overnight but you should add salt so there’s not too much magic happening. Just pick the amount of time that works for you and make bread this way for a while. Right now, I’m playing around with three hours, and I’m liking it. When I make my leaven in the morning for the day’s dough, I start my autolyse an hour later. After three hours, I move on to the next step; this gives my leaven four hours to mature and get ready to make bread for me.