Are Eight Hours too much?
Madonna says she doesn’t need much sleep, and Margaret Thatcher is famously said to have only slept for 4 – 5 hours a night as Prime Minister.
Leonardo da Vinci slept little, as did Napoleon, Edison, Jefferson, etc.
We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night, frightened we aren’t getting enough sleep.
But has anyone thought why we think eight hours could be the norm? Maybe less could be good for you?
A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural for some people.
In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.
It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.
Though sleep scientists were impressed by the study, among the general public the idea that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours still persists.
In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.
His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.
“Over 30% of the medical problems that doctors are faced with stem directly or indirectly from sleep. But sleep has been ignored in medical training and there are very few centres where sleep is studied,” he says.
But it is suggested that the waking period between sleeps, when people were forced into periods of rest and relaxation, could have played an important part in the human capacity to regulate stress naturally.
Cancer drugs can cause sleeplessness
One of the major problems every cancer patient experiences is sleeplessness. We wake in the middle of the night, then find it impossible to get back to sleep again.
So being a restless type, I started to go to my emails, and set myself the task of trying to clear my inbox. And two things happened:
- I found there is a whole army of people also sitting in front of computers in the early hours of the morning
- And irritatingly, friends started to say, “you do look well”, when I should have looked hung-over
I took advice of nurses, and had a sleep in the middle of the afternoon, then let nature take its course and tell me when I should go back to bed and take up the second half of my sleep pattern.
Don’t follow my example – I am no doctor. But if sleeplessness worries you, discuss this with a doctor.
Again, I am no doctor, but recent medical journals have been bursting with stories about dangers of sleeping pills. This from WebMD is typical:
A provocative new study finds that people who take prescription sleeping pills — even once in a while — have a higher death risk than non-users.
The top third of sleeping-pill users had a 5.3-fold higher death risk. They also had a 35% higher risk of cancer, the study found.
“We are not certain. But it looks like sleeping pills could be as risky as smoking cigarettes. It looks much more dangerous to take these pills than to treat insomnia another way,” study leader Daniel F. Kripke, MD, tells WebMD.
Should you be worried?
This is something it makes sense to discuss with your doctor. And perhaps ask your doctor if you should do an experiment on yourself, to see if you can go a week without the pills. Take note of when you sleep, and when you are awake, and also write down if you feel awful the next day, or if your body starts to adjust to going without the pills.
It could be an interesting experiment – and eventually might show you that nature helps you adjust naturally.
Just make sure you give your body enough time to eliminate the pills completely – and see if your skin is clearer.
And Sir Winston Churchill was known to work incredibly long hours, sometimes until 3 am. He explained how he managed this by saying “You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one – well, at least one and a half.”
Sleep Well – whatever time of day or night you drop off!