We all have to sleep every day, so you’d think we’d know exactly how much sleep we need to be at our best. Just like a good diet and exercise, sleep is essential for our productivity, happiness and general well being; yet we tend to know a lot less about sleep than other essential parts of our lives.
For as long as I can remember, 8 hours sleep per night has always been seen as the perfect amount. It’s taken as the gospel. Ask almost anyone; “how much sleep should you have?” and they almost certainly reply; “eight hours.” But that’s not necessarily the case.
The eight hours myth
There have been a number of studies into how much sleep we should have each night. None of which have concluded that we need eight hours, yet this idea still persists amongst most of us.
Thomas Wehr produced a study in the 1990’s, which involved putting a group of people in darkness for 14 hours per day for a month in order to study our natural sleep patterns.
Wehr’s study concluded that our natural sleep pattern is four-hours, followed by an hour or two awake and then another four-hour sleep.
A search through the history books highlights that segmented sleep was common up until the 1920’s. Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a paper, drawn from 16 years of research, and concluded that segmented sleep disappeared from our social consciousness as a result of improved street lighting, domestic lighting and an increased number of coffee houses opening all night.
As technology developed, the night became a time for activity and socialising, thus leaving us less time to dedicate to rest and sleep.
Famous sleep habits
Last week we discussed that some professional athletes can sleep for up to 10 or 11 hours per day. And it’s not just athletes who don’t stick to the idea of 8 hours sleep per day:
• Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, only sleeps 4-6 hours per night
• US President, Barrack Obama, sleeps for 6 hours per night (around 1am to 7am)
• Fashion designer Tom Ford sleeps for only 3 hours a night
These people, though famous, aren’t superhuman; they just know what works for them and manage their sleep in a way that keeps them energised and productive.
How much sleep do you need?
The simple answer, as much as you need – I know that may not sound helpful – but everyone is different. How much sleep you need will depend on your lifestyle, fitness, age, diet and many other factors.
Seeing what works for you is the best way to handle sleeping patterns. Applying the generic, “I need 8 hours” mantra, isn’t a guarantee you’ll feel less tired and can actually be detrimental to those who need more than 8 hours, or those who need less than 8 hours.
Here are some tips to see if you’re getting too much, too little or just the right amount of sleep:
- Do you wake up before your alarm? If you do, this is your body’s way of telling you that you’ve had enough sleep. If this happens to you, it can be best to get up when you wake up, rather than snoozing until your alarm goes off
- Most people tend to fall asleep in around 15-20 minutes. If you’re lying in bed for over an hour before you fall asleep, you might be trying to sleep too much. And, if you’re falling asleep instantly, then you may need to start getting some more sleep
The key is to see how you feel throughout the day. If you’re feeling tired, lack energy and constantly yearning for a nap, then you might need to try and get some more sleep. If you feel good, and full of energy, then you’re probably getting enough sleep, even if it’s not 8 hours.
How much sleep do you need each night?
Image credit: Relaxing Music