We read about it all the time – that all important 8 hours of sleep. It’s going to make us healthier, more productive and prevent some diseases. But, did you know that the concept of eight-hours of sleep is relatively recent. Scientists from the 16th century to today’s scientists, questions whether that 8 hours is really the most productive way to sleep. Here are some of the findings:
- Even the Canterbury Tales talk about interrupted sleep. A character decides to go back to bed after her “firste sleep”. A 16th century French physician concluded that laborers could conceive more children if they waited until after the “first sleep” to make love.
- Scientific studies document segmented sleep. Scientist emeritus at the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas A. Wehr, conducted a study in the 1990s where subjects were deprived of artificial light. At first subjects, slept through the night, but after a while, they began to awaken a little after midnight, lie awake for an hour or two and then go back to sleep. It was the same pattern of segmented sleep seen in historical records and early works of literature. It suggested that a biphasic sleep patter might be natural for humans.
- Millions of Chinese workers do it and so can Google employees. What? Take a nap! More recent studies suggest that any deep sleep – whether an eight-hour block or a 30-minute nap – readies our brains to work at a higher level. This could mean better ideas, quicker solutions and more accurate recall. A NASA-financed study found that naps as short as 24 minutes improved cognitive performance.
- Major League Baseball gave it a try. Addressing the problem of being on the road, Fernando Montes, a former strength and conditioning coach for the Texas Rangers, suggested players fall asleep with their hotel room drapes open so they awoke with the rising sun’s light – even if that allowed less than an 8 hour sleep block. He, then, provided a quiet, sleeping area at each ballpark so players could nap before the game. Players reported the felt great physically and mentally over the long haul or the season.
- The take away! Sleep is essential but freedom to sleep in a different pattern may be beneficial. If you wake up after a few hours of sleep, instead of tossing and turning, enjoy the time. Use it for reflection or an amorous adventure. Get a jump on the next day with some planning. Use the time and as a normal part of the sleep cycle instead of creating sleep anxiety for yourself and turning to sleep aides or pills that may, in the long run, reinforce the cycle and your anxiety.
No matter when you sleep, make sure your mattress isn’t contributing to disturbing the sleep cycle that is normal for you. Many experts recommend the natural support of a latex mattress. Give yourself a break with a comfortable mattress and no anxiety if your sleep cycle is segmented. And, if a nap feels right and you have the opportunity to take one, go for it! It may improve your daytime performance!