If you are anything like me, you have questioned the need for sleep at least once in your life. I frequently curse the need for sleep, at 2 in the morning, as tiredness overtakes me and my super comfy Cambri double bed calls my name, I question why we need 8 hours of sleep a night.
Doctors and other experts have long touted the need for 8 hours of sleep, but do we really need that much? Think about the time savings, and how much more we could get done in our day if we only needed half that.
Some people boast about their ability to function on 4 hours of sleep. Is it possible that we are just sleeping too much? What is it about 8 hours that ticks all the right boxes for the human body? Whether it was short sleep envy or the need to know why I embarked on a quest to find out, do we really need 8 hours of sleep?
Before we tackle the need to waste a third of our lives sleeping, it’s important to understand why we sleep. Sleep is not a uniquely human behavior; if we look at the animal world, every single animal requires sleep. So, sleep plays a vital role in life; what exactly does sleeping do for our bodies?
Sleep is all about energy conservation and restoration. As we go about our daily lives, we consume energy in the form of whatever food we have eaten that day. During our wakeful hours, our bodies are depleted of fuel, and our bodies start to deteriorate. Sleep allows our body to operate on a lower baseline energy consumption and, as such, allows our body to recoup for another day.
Cycles of sleep.
So sleep helps our bodies restore and recover, but how much time does this take? Cant we just take a twenty minute nap and be done with sleep? Well, no, it turns out there are several stages of sleep, and reaching the healing stage of sleep takes a little longer.
Stage one and two of sleep are the ‘drifting off’ stage. Your body must enter these stages in order to progress. These early stages are easy to awaken from and replenish various chemicals in your brain that promote alertness. Stage one typically lasts around twenty minutes as you feel drowsy and settle into sleep.
Stages 3 and 4 are known as deep sleep, the sleep you need to regenerate muscle tissue, hair follicles, and other cells that were depleted due to daily use. Deep sleep is the most beneficial stage of sleep for us, as well as the hardest to wake up from. As a whole sleep cycle, this restorative stage only lasts 5-15 percent of total time.
For each individual, the exact nature of their sleep cycle will differ. A balanced diet and a consistent routine will increase the body’s ability to reach deep, restorative sleep. The cocktail of chemicals that the body releases during sleep, such as human growth hormone, keeps us alive and growing. What happens when we don’t sleep?
Having a few sleepless nights every once in a while has little to no long term effects on your body, but missing sleep regularly or following unhealthy sleeping patterns can have serious effects on your health.
If you are regularly missing deep sleep, your body will not be able to restore itself as easily, and you put your self at risk of heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attack, and death. Other delightful symptoms of lack of sleep include a higher risk of obesity, moodiness, depression, and even affect your outward appearance.
Go to bed.
So, to the disdain of many night owls like myself, you do need sleep. For your body to restore itself naturally, it needs to be able to complete sleep cycles without interruption. For most people over 18, these cyles will take 7-8 hours.
There are some people (an estimated one percent of the world’s population) who seem only to need a few hours of sleep each night. This is a relatively new topic of research and is classified as a sleep disorder. These “short sleepers” seem to share similar characteristics, being upbeat, energetic, and active. Short sleepers can run off four hours of sleep a night with no know side effects. Research into short sleepers is in its infancy, so time will tell if these short sleepers are the sleepless elite, or destined for horrible futures as there lack of sleep catches up.
If you can’t conquer the need for sleep, you may as well join in. There are ways to boost sleep and ensure that the time you spend in bed is as beneficial as possible. Establishing a set time to fall asleep and wake up is the first step in maximizing sleep effectiveness and a habit of all successful people. If you haven’t already, get yourself a comfortable bed.
Following a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods, coupled with regular exercise, is a sure-fire way to become healthier. Exercise and healthy fuel for your body will aid your transition into a deep sleep and keep you energized all day long. Sleep and body weight have a direct correlation, the healthier you are, the easier you will find going to sleep. This effect compounds as you become healthier, and your quality of sleep continues to improve.
Unless you are a rare human who needs no sleep, your body will need 7-8 hours of regenerative sleep to keep you healthy and happy. Set a time for sleep and wake up at the same time each day to build a routine and help your mind relax into sleep. Even a light exercise routine will be beneficial for those who struggle to nod off. Avoid excessive caffeine consumption and avoid alcohol for the best results. All this talk is making me sleepy… see you in the morning!