Time to End the 8-Hour Sleep Myth!

Tuesday Oct 4, 2016 | BY |
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“For tens of thousands of years, before the introduction of artificial lighting, most humans thought that what the pushers of sleep meds promise – an uninterrupted night of seven or eight hours’ sleep – was an unnatural and undesirable thing.” Robert Moss, Dream Teacher

by Frederic Patenaude

You’ve heard it before. To be healthy, we need to drink eight glasses of water a day. And get eight hours of sleep per night. Oh, and eight is the lucky number in Chinese. Coincidence?

In the natural health world, sleep is praised for its restorative values. Eight hours is the minimum. People seeking peak performance are told to get 8, 9, 10, or even 12 hours of sleep a night.

People will do anything to catch up on this precious sleep: sleep in on weekends, use the “snooze” button profusely, and sleep 10-12 hours a day while on vacation (while falling asleep in a stupor of rum and coke and margaritas).

 

America is overstimulated by caffeine, and stressed out, not just sleep deprived.

We’ve been told by the media that America is in a constant state of sleep deprivation. People are not getting their sleep! Insomnia affects 60% of the population, and the pharmaceutical companies have stepped in to create new forms of drugs to replace the previous generation. New names like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata are now quasi-common household names. But actual research has shown that these drugs and others are not improving sleep that much. Total sleeping time is only increased by 10 or 20 minutes. “The Drugs may not actually improve sleep. Rather, because of the amnesic effects of these drugs, people think they sleep better under the influence of most sleep medications because they don’t remember being awake.” Dr. Gregg Jacobs, from the book Say Good Night to Insomnia.

“Sadly, the claim that we need eight hours of sleep has contributed to widespread sleeping pill use over the past decade. Many people know they do not need eight hours of sleep and cannot sleep eight hours if they try. Nevertheless, some scientists and the media continue to suggest that everyone needs at least eight hours of sleep per night and that any resulting ‘sleep debt’ may contribute to health problems. A significant amount of new research strongly suggests that this is not the case,” says Dr. Jacobs.

It is my belief that the main problem in America is overstimulation through the use of excessive amounts of caffeine, as well as all forms of stress. This is what is wreaking havoc on the body, not the fact that most people only get 6-7 hours of sleep a night on average, an amount that is perfectly acceptable for most people.

It’s been found that people who sleep 7 hours a night have the lowest risk of death rates over a six-year period than people sleeping 8 or 9 hours. These figures also controlled for factors such as smoking, alcohol use, and physical inactivity.

It’s true that sleep needs vary between individuals. Margaret Thatcher famously only slept 4 hours a night, which put her in the 1% of the population that can get by on this little sleep. Genetic differences can alter the amount of sleep an individual needs.

But the vast majority of adults need between 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep a night, with 7 being average, and 6 being very common.

iStock_000026279873XSmallHistorical Evidence for the Mysterious Two-sleep Night

Do you wake up in the middle of the night on a regular basis? If so, you’re like about one- third of American adults.

This type of night awakening is often diagnosed as insomnia and treated with medication, but evidence shows that it may not be abnormal, but part of a natural rhythm that our bodies gravitate toward.

You see, the continuous 8-hour sleep routine that we’ve been told is “natural” is as natural for human beings as driving in automobiles or crossing several time zones in a matter of hours in an airplane. In other words: it’s a pretty recent occurrence in human history.

In a fascinating article titled “Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You,” the authors at Slumberwise describe the sleep patterns before the 1800s.

Researchers have found that humans didn’t always sleep in 8-hour chunks. We used to sleep in two distinct periods a night. The entire night lasted 12 hours (before the invention of artificial lighting), and was separated into two “sleeps.”

– The first sleep lasted 3 or 4 hours.
– In the middle of the night, people woke up for another two or three hours and were active during that time.
– People slept again until morning.

So you may imagine that if sunset was around 6 p.m. and sunrise at 6 a.m., people went to bed at 7 p.m., woke up around 11 p.m. and then went “back” to sleep at 3 a.m. for another 3 hours. In total, they slept between 6 and 8 hours a night.

What did people do in the middle of the night?

Many stayed in bed reading. They had sex. They smoked. And some people visited their neighbors and chatted for hours!

In human experiments with controlled lighting in the early ‘90s, this theory of the two-sleep nights was proven. Fifteen guys spent a month with artificially controlled daylight. They would stay up for 10 hours a day instead of the usual 16, and in the other 14 hours they would be in a closed, dark room. This mimicked the conditions in Europe during the winters (and frankly, where most of us are heading this season!).

Once people caught up on sleep, they began to have two sleeps! In this 12-hour stretch, they would sleep for four hours, wake up for several hours, and then sleep again until morning.

The participants in the experiment described this middle-of-the-night period as very meditative and relaxing. They didn’t stress about falling back to sleep, like many of us do.

Scientists call this the bi-modal sleep pattern.

This historical sleeping pattern may no longer be very practical in the modern world, and it isn’t necessarily better than the current sleep pattern. However, it just shows that there’s not one right way to sleep.

Next time you wake up at 2-3 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep, you might keep in mind that your ancestors did the same.

Sleep Patterns of Indigenous People

Years ago, I did a survival retreat with a kind of survivalist expert here in Quebec, with a girlfriend. We learned how to make fire without any technology, how to make a bed out of straws, and how to survive eating wild plants and animals. Thankfully, I never took the “advanced” course where grilling a wild rat is apparently part of the program!

I must say that it’s been years since I took this class and if you tested my fire-making skills right now, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t pass. However, from all of the things our guide said, the one thing that stuck in my mind the most was about the sleep patterns of native people.

I remember him mentioning that “there’s no native tribe in the world that sleeps 8 hours a night.”

Apparently, fragmented sleep is the way of life for all native people (along with afternoon naps).

For most of our history on this earth, humans have coped with darkness. And since we come from the tropics, this meant 12 hours a day of darkness, a year-round pattern of even hours of sunshine and darkness as you got close to the equator.

But people don’t need 12 hours of sleep a night. So, because they couldn’t be stimulated by artificial lighting, our sleep was broken up into two segments, typically 3-4 hours each.

The Trumai, an indigenous people in Brazil, used to get up in the middle of the night to socialize and flirt by the fireside, smoke or go fishing. That was, of course, before the introduction of electricity.

So it seems that the invention of the electric light bulb, and perhaps coffee houses, changed everything in the world of sleep. It forced us into a “monophasic” type of sleep, going to bed late at night and waking up after 6 to 9 hours, depending on the person.

But is this type of sleep natural? Beyond discussions of what is “natural” or “modern,” I think there real question is, “Are there other patterns of sleep that can work for people, besides the current 8-hour, continuous sleep paradigm?”

Go to your doctor and say that you can’t fall asleep at night, or you wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep for several hours, and you’ll be diagnosed with insomnia, and probably prescribed a sleeping pill.

But as many insomnia researchers have found, the cure to insomnia may actually be found in… less sleep!

People who have trouble falling asleep at night could simply shorten their total sleep time, so they fall asleep more easily.

And if you often wake up in the middle of the night, you can simply understand that this pattern is actually normal and natural. Simply by changing your attitude about sleep, and starting to perceive “interrupted sleep” as natural, you’ll stop stressing about it. You can use that hour in the middle of the night to do anything! And because you’re not seeing it as a problem, you’ll stop creating unnecessary anxiety that is actually preventing sound sleep. You’ll fall back to sleep differently, just by seeing the “problem” in a different way.

“If they perceive interrupted sleep as normal, they experience less distress when they wake at night, and fall back to sleep more easily,” says Dr. Walter Brown, psychiatrist.

The Power of Napping

You may actually need 8 hours of sleep a night, but you may not need 8 continuous hours.

“I’m often asked if a nap during the day will interfere with nocturnal sleep. The answer is a definite no. Unfortunately, many information sources on sleep hygiene encourage people to avoid napping if they’re having trouble sleeping at night. Not only is there not a shred of evidence to support this advice, but much of the data coming out of sleep research demonstrates quite the opposite. In studies across all age ranges, nocturnal sleep duration has been proven to be unaffected by midday napping.” Take a Nap! Change Your Life

Almost all the sleep doctors, my mom, and everyone I know, are telling me that napping is bad for people with insomnia. “You nap during the day, and you won’t be able to fall asleep at night,” they say!

But the truth is that like most people who tend toward polyphasic sleep, even when I DON’T nap I will still tend to wake up during the night and have disturbed sleep.

Our bodies are pretty much programed for biphasic sleep. This could be the ancestral practice of waking up during the night and falling asleep later, but also the long period of sleep during the night combined with a short period during the day: the nap.

If napping is unhealthy and unnatural, why are so many cultures around the world practicing it?

We tend to view the benefits of sleep in a very linear way: deep sleep is great, and if you don’t fall asleep deeply, you don’t get the benefits of sleep.

But this is dead wrong. Sleep is composed of five distinct phases, each of which provides its own benefits.

– Stage 1 lasts only a few minutes, and involves non-linear thoughts and associations, but no eye movement. This stage doesn’t feel like sleeping and you won’t remember it as sleeping.

– Stage 2  is actually the longest phase of sleep. The heart rate slows and body temperature drops. Your brain will be active, but with incoherent thoughts. If you wake up after a stretch of stage 2 sleep, you’ll feel as if you “didn’t fall asleep,” when in fact your body’s physiology had dramatically changed and you were reaping the benefits of sleep — you just didn’t enter the deep phase of sleep yet.

– Stage 3 and 4  are short-wave sleep. The body temperature really cools down and you enter the dark world of unconsciousness. These two stages of sleep promote muscle growth and detox. Stress is no longer wreaking havoc on your body and this is when the body heals itself!

Stage 5 is REM (rapid eye movement) and the dream state. This is when we integrate a lot of the emotional and learning experiences of the day.

How Long to Nap?

10-20 Minutes: This is a Power Nap. Because you’ll be spending that time in stage 1 and 2 sleeps, you will experience a boost in alertness and energy.

30-40 Minutes: You may have time to enter into deep sleep, depending on your degree of tiredness. Some people experience grogginess after taking a nap of this length. In this case, consider a shorter or longer nap.

60 minutes. You will experience improvements in remembering facts after a nap of this length. This is the perfect nap time to promote physical recovery and healing.

90 minutes: This is a full sleep cycle for most people, and includes all the benefits of sleep, including improved emotional wellbeing and creativity. You also avoid the problems related to sleep inertia since you are not waking up from deep sleep.

You’ve probably heard that you should take a power nap (20 minutes) to avoid feeling the grogginess of sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is a phenomenon that occurs when we wake up in the middle of stage 3 or 4 sleep, leading to feelings of grogginess that can last for hours.

But that really depends on how tired and sleep deprived you are. If you are carrying a big sleep debt, a 30-minute nap will put you quickly in short-wave sleep and waking up after that time may leave you feeling groggy and irritable.

I personally find that 40 minutes is the optimal amount of time to nap for me, with 20 minutes being a good amount as well.

Finding the Sleep Pattern that Works for You

Maybe you experience no sleep problems. Maybe you fall asleep easily, stay asleep the entire night, and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. If so, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky ones.

But, if you experience less-than-optimal sleep, consider questioning the 8-hour sleep paradigm in which we live.

Granted, some people don’t get enough sleep. How can you tell? If you fall asleep within a couple of minutes of hitting the pillow, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Drifting off should take about 15 minutes. If it takes longer, then you’re probably getting too much sleep.

And if the current 8-hour block of sleep per night doesn’t work for you, consider reducing your nighttime sleeping and introducing naps whenever convenient. Above all, don’t stress out if you can’t sleep for 8 hours or if you wake up in the middle of the night!

I’m personally gravitating toward reducing my night-time sleeping and taking a regular nap in the afternoon. I find that my creativity and focus are improved when I don’t sleep in the morning, but an afternoon nap enables me to get back to my game for the rest of the day. Working from home, this is a luxury I can afford. In whatever situation you are, there are still plenty of options beyond the 8-hour sleep paradigm.

This article is not meant to be a definitive answer on sleep, establishing new rules and guidelines that you should follow. It is, instead, my sharing of my own exploration of the mysteries of sleep.

Question of the day: what sleep pattern works best for you?

REFERENCES:
Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11825133
Myth of 8 Hour Sleep BBC — http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783
http://slumberwise.com/science/your-ancestors-didnt-sleep-like-you/
http://life.nationalpost.com/2012/07/16/rest-assured-theres-nothing-wrong-with-segmented-sleep/
http://blog.beliefnet.com/dreamgates/2013/08/we-want-to-sleep-like-cavemen-not-like-the-dead.html
http://www.marksdailyapple.com/biphasic-sleep/#axzz2j7clyfhp
http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2005nl/oct/051000sleep.htm
http://www.livescience.com/12891-natural-sleep.html
http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougall/2004nl/040300pudepression.htm

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

57 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Yvonne says:

    Doctora Mercola says the body detoxifys during sleep and it is therefore important to sleep enough hours, the more the better.

    • That’s a good point! I think the key word is “enough,” which may be individual. However, I don’t think “the more the better” necessarily applies here.

      • Ryan says:

        If everything is running as it should, it’s pretty obvious when you’re tired and require sleep.
        Just do what your body asks you to do.. and without a doubt the body detoxifies when you sleep.
        The sleep process is of course a body maintenance phase and some require more than others, if you’re yawning it’s a pretty big clue to do the deed.

        I believe the reason people feel groggy or bad when they don’t get a full cycle is entirely because they’ve woken mid way through a body detox, the better your body state the less likely I feel this will be an issue.

      • Leigh says:

        Ancient lifestyle and healing traditions, such as Ayurveda, and TCM, recommend going to be EARLY enough
        to allow the body to be able to detox properly, AND also, you should not eat for at least 3 hours before going to sleep, because your body cannot both digest food and cleanse/detox. So if you want it to do its job during the night, stay away from food before you eat. Some of these practitioners, many of whom also hold conventional medical degrees, advise going to sleep before 10, one even advises before 9 ….. and waking early.

        • Christina says:

          That’s really interesting to me; I’ve come across a few things that seem to suggest the importance of eating light before bed o/r an early meal & sleeping early and with y eating and sleeping patterns it’s really been on my mind. Can you give me more info on what you were talking about or any links? Thanks!

  2. Nadine says:

    I have always felt better with 8 hours of sleep. If left to my own devices, I almost always wake up 8 hours after I fall asleep. And napping makes me feel awful – groggy, depressed and foggy minded. Knowing this about myself, I always try to factor in 8 hours of sleep in one shot.

    My problem with sleep has always been the falling asleep part. One of the best things that I ever did for myself was to buy a daylight alarm clock that gradually reduces the light level at bedtime and then increases the light level when it’s time to wake up. As long as I factor in at least 7 hours of sleep (but preferably 8) then I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. No more being jarred awake suddenly and no more pushing snooze. And if I eat healthy during the day – particularly in the morning, then I don’t usually have any mid-afternoon brain fog.

    So I guess I am one of those oddballs that they based the myth on 🙂

    Really enjoyed the article and it reminded me that maybe I need to stop pushing my sleep preferences on my kids. Thanks for the info!

  3. melanie says:

    Thanks for the info! I was told by my nutritionist that we wake around 2 am and 3 am was because that was the time our liver is cleansing (not sure if cleansing is the correct term) But that would account for all us waking, at that time even in the olden days.

  4. Dana says:

    Frederic, what about the myth about the sleep before midnight being the most restful? Is this true? Does it matter at what time you go to sleep after all?
    I am a night owl and tend to stay up sometimes close to morning time, but then I can sleep in, as well… Is this a bad habit? I often wonder…

    • I’ve read many books on sleep and there are different theories. Some people are truly “night owls” and physiologically function better when they go to bed at a later time. It all has to do with body temperature variations and melotonin production. So I would say about sleep before midnight that it’s a cliché and not true for everybody.

    • In my experience in the last 35 years with people that I have coached with food and trained in person with fitness, those who were “night owls” became “early birds” after doing sufficient work on improving their diets along with a proper fitness lifestyle. So I have found that the people who think that they are night owls are really just not living the best lifestyle that they could. I myself used to be one of those people when I was a child and also in my teens. But when I decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle all around, it all changed. Years later I started to thrive by getting to sleep early and rising early. Now, more than three decades later, I can do all nighters and do the club scene with certain friends who are less than half my age when I choose to (which is not often since I do not care much for that scene), if I am joining in a birthday party celebration in New York City for example. Interestingly, the younger night owls are all yawing and falling asleep by four in the morning while I am raring to go and fully awake, and I never drink coffee. I even would have a drink or two with them before, which is a once in a five-year thing for me by the way. They are all dropping like flies, while I am not even close. Of course I hate to do this since it disrupts my fitness and work schedule but I am just giving this as one tiny example.

      I’ve also noticed that there is an absolute direct relation between the level of toxicity in the system and the ability to fall asleep relatively quickly and sleep soundly. On a simple level, just eating after 6:30 or seven in the evening will certainly contribute to a poor night’s sleep (and having trouble falling asleep), as will drinking any stimulating drinks including tea later at night. While some will swear that there are psychological factors at hand, I will swear that the majority of unsatisfactory sleep issues are caused by poor eating habits. I have proven this to myself over and over, as well as with all my friends and clients. Just remember that it takes time to reverse bad habits.

      So I can whole heartedly report that if people put forth some effort over years to improve their habits that they can get more milage out of life and be more productive for sure. It is pretty easily measured in strength, endurance, body composition, and freedom from fatigue or even the slightest ill, of which I have not had one for ten years straight being 100% raw and paying attention to regular sleep of eight to nine hours per night starting no later than 10 PM every night (well 99.9% of the time anyway).

      There is so much more that I could contribute here… I just wish that there was more time! I have to go to bed!

      Remember: Lifestyle differeintates between those who get disease and those who do not.

  5. Dear Sir. living in Brazil since 30 years and near the aquator, I was truely impressed by your article and want to confirm that your theory did me well in confirming that my rhythm of sleep is not bad. I get up at 5.15 in the morning (now daylight already), but go to bed at 7 at night. Sleep until 1 or 2 o´clock at night, stay awake for an hour, but then I´m falling back to sleep. I´m physically OK, inspite of my 70 years, I´m working a lot in my garden and caring for my animals, and the surroundings think that I might have 55 years… !!! I sometimes was worried by my waking up after midnight, but your article now took the worries entirely away and I want to say thank you to you. Hahaha, besides: Frederik is the name of my younger son, of 43 years now and living in Denver, we both are German. THANK YOU TRUELY VERY MUCH – FREYA SALLOUTI

  6. Amy says:

    When my children were infants I noticed that there was a roughly 4-hour cycle from alertness, activity and rest that went on throughout the entire day. As the babies grew they would still come briefly awake at the alert stage of this cycle during the night, bur became used to turning over an drifting back to sleep. During each pregnancy, while I was especially attuned to my body’s rhythms, I noted the same about myself. Since then I have felt best if I honour that rhythm. I sleep about 6 hours a night in two bursts and am happy to nap for a while at the low point of the afternoon cycle. I work from home and so have the privilege of arranging my work patterns to include 2–3 hours of intense focus plus a period of activity and rest, repeated throughout the day, but I would not do so well if I were compelled to keep “office hours”. We constrain our children to condense their sleep into an unbroken period at night from earliest infancy and call it good parenting. What a shame.

  7. shivie says:

    I agree Fred, I like you, sleep fitfully and wake often. When I can get up and be with it knowing I can take a nap later (because I am working from home that day) it is a lot less stressful than when I know I have to be somewhere the next day. I love those late and early hours when others are sleeping and then I love to nap later when they are all sitting at their desks groggy and tired :).

    My yoga teacher always took 11 minute power naps, 2 a day and swore by them, like anything in life its about being informaed and then finding what finds your own unique lifestyle. Thanks for starting a great conversation 🙂

  8. Selina says:

    Well, I think it’s important to consider the time one is to go to bed. The earlier the better I would say. I have heard that the body detoxifies the most if one is sleeping already during the period of 8-10 pm. And that it is healthy to wake up during 5-7 am. So to go to bed early and to wake up early seems the most optimal. But I also like the idea of going to bed around 7 pm, get up for a few hours and go to sleep again. Have to try it some time.

    I have started to learn a sleeping pattern of going to bed early and to wake up early, that way I feel most alert. But if I don’t get enough sleep, which happens if I stay up too late, then I will definitely have troubles during the day with too much tiredness. I need 8 hours sleep if I am to function.

  9. interesting article fred, especially the part about how we used to sleep in 2 distinct parts of the night. however, as a fairly athletic person, unlike dr. mcdougal, i’m a bit skeptical about sleeping a mere 6 hours a night since recovery happens while asleep. i’m sure there’s a point of diminishing returns for one’s recovery when it comes to sleeping for too many hours. but from my experience, 6 hours is not sufficient if i want to be fully recovered and feeling energetic and fresh to start training upon rising.

  10. Cath says:

    I’ve also always had a problem falling asleep and staying asleep. I feel so much better when I get between 7 and 8 hours solid sleep a night.

    I’ve never drunk coffee or taken other stimulants. I eat a high raw, vegan, wholefood diet. But life gets pretty stressful and often I don’t have time for pranayama and meditation (which are fantastic) and my mind just won’t turn off. I practice good sleep hygiene – dark room, no technology, etc.

    I don’t have the luxury of sleeping in to catch up. When that alarm goes off at 6 or 7 in the morning, it’s time to rise and shine until 10pm. No time for naps during the day, and I’ve never been able to fall asleep during the day anyway, no matter how little sleep I get at night or how tired I am. So I use tart cherry juice (for melatonin) and valerian.

    These together give me a fantastic night’s sleep and I feel great during the day.

  11. Andrew J says:

    Neil Nedley founder of the (to my knowledge) the worlds most successful depression recovery program. Recommends the age old saying of “early to bed, early to rise makes you happy, healthy, wealthy and wise”. He quotes various studies that give evidence of this. One study comes to mind done at the Brigham Young University that found a direct correlation between academic scores and when the student went to bed as opposed to the amount of sleep. He also quotes a health legend from the 1800s who said “1 hour before midnight is worth 2 after midnight” (Nedley has a bunch of super interesting podcasts on the web)

    Jay Sutliff is also another sleep expert who says (and Nedley agrees) that we need to get sleep in a completely dark room. The reason for this is that we release melatonin dependent on light. Melatonin helps rebuild our bodies. Which if you go to bed late and get 12hrs of sleep and there is a street light outside your room and sunlight in the morning, you won’t be getting the benefits you think you are.

  12. Heather says:

    Amazing article!

  13. tsimitpo says:

    Well, speaking out of my own experience alone, it seems my mood and energy levels are greatly affected by how much I’m in or around sunshine. I seem to need and desire much more sleep when I haven’t had much sun, and conversely feel much more alert, creative, sharp, and energetic when I’ve been exposed to more of the sun. Part of that may be due to living in the Pacific NW of the US. where sun is a precious commodity and most prevalent in summer with it rarely being too warm.

  14. Kuru says:

    Chiropractors say it takes 8 hours for the body to realign. And I have to say, I look better after 8 hours. No circles under the eyes, pallid skin. I do like naps though and will make more consideration about that.

    Re the mind connection: I was on a retreat once where we were practicing pure awareness. I had insomnia one night for the entire night and got to bring my monkey mind back over and over to pure awareness. The next day I was entirely energized and focused. A great teaching.

  15. Kristen says:

    I guess I don’t have insomnia! Ha. This is totally my sleep pattern. I sleep hard for 3 or 4 hr – then I’m wide awake, but after an hour or 2 I sleep again for another 3 to 4 hours. I never feel sleep deprived. For many years this use to stress me out but when I came to a level of acceptance about my sleep patterns everything was ok! Also, sometimes I just need more sleep than other days…just like some days I’m hungrier that others…there is never an exact formula.

  16. Sarah says:

    Wow, what a great article! This makes complete sense to me. I sleep very well- usually 8 hours a night. My husband wakes up often and has trouble getting back to sleep. He will appreciate this information. I especially found the information concerning sleep medications interesting. I have family members that use Ambien. Thank goodness my husband knows better than to touch that stuff. I believe those drugs alter people. I have seen it effect family negatively. I will be sharing this article. Thank you !!!

  17. Hello I sleep maybe 6 hours max. no matter what time I go to bed I wake up every morning at 4a.m. It is nice to know I that I am not the only insomniac out there. I read or write when I can’t sleep. Thanks for listening. Elaine

  18. DOs let your body give you the messages of what it needs regarding sleep, we are all different
    DON’Ts follow what gurus tell you, listen to and follow your natural self and don’t use stimulants
    believe anything or anyone, believe in your own experiences by “knowing” them for yourself
    DOs check my 2 websites

  19. Steve says:

    Not sure about Margaret Thatcher..she wrecked havoc in the UK and abroad with some very draconian laws and suffered quite a rapid descent into Alzheimer’s, ok maybe not related!
    I have been following a course in Chinese medicine where the author states that between 22.00 and 24.00 are the hours where the internal organs particularly the liver go through their deepest rejuvenative, healing process.
    This is related to our ancestors sleeping patterns and is therefore programmed into us. Our circadian rhythms,the internal body clock, are aligned for us to sleep at that time.
    If I could put this iPad down eventually I would give it a go….

  20. Rob says:

    I agree 100%! I have struggled with sleep ever since a switched to a plant based diet. I find sleeping a couple hours, waking for a couple, then sleeping until early morning, and adding an afternoon nap for 60-90 mins works best for me! Unfortunately I can’t always do this, but it is what works best, when I can!

  21. Liz says:

    As usual Fred, you know how to capture readers’ interest with a controversial headline. Sleep is not overrated, it’s just different strokes for different folks!! But overall, it’s important to get your 8 hours, however you do it.

    However, while agreeing with the thrust of your article, there is one thing I must comment on as this comes up often in various contexts: yes, Margaret Thatcher famously got by with 3 – 4 hours of sleep a night, BUT she ended up with dementia and died of it. The brain simply CANNOT survive for too long on not enough sleep.

    BTW, those patterns of yours you mentioned – they are quite normal: the developing teenage brain needs to go to sleep later and sleep in the am – I remember a debate here a few years ago when it was suggested that schools start later to accommodate this. Nothing happened about it because in the end it was all too hard……….

    Liz

    • Gudrun says:

      Liz, THANK YOU 🙂 i mean it!
      about you ending on teenagers and their sleep needs, i am still like this! always have been – so i gather i am still a teenager 🙂
      nice point on the Iron Lady, but as so often, i doubt it was her short sleep that gave her Alzheimer’s, though it may well have contributed….

      for years i have tried to follow the “recommended” 8 hours and it just frustrates me, so i gave up and now i sleep as my body dictates, not the clock or research

  22. Banshan says:

    Thank you Federic,
    Everyone is different — just like for dietary requirements things change from day to day depending on what life throws at us. If my body craves meat then I eat meat and if it craves veggies I eat veggies and if I wake up naturally after 7 hours cool — but I do not sweat it if it wakes up naturally after 10 hours.

    It is about being in touch, not about “But the vast majority of adults need between 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep a night, with 7 being average, and 6 being very common.”

    Maybe you can second-guess your body but I cannot so I LISTEN. Thanks for blowing the cover on rawfoods — what any listening person knew all along.

  23. Durianrider says:

    You raise some good points Fred. I will do a response video on youtube today.

  24. Dejana says:

    Hi, this was very interesting and informative, thank you! It’s true- i do feel depressed and horrible when i oversleep. I’m usually tired around 6,7 but never go, because then i wake up znd stress thinking i need to go back to sleep but can’t. If i go to sleep after 12 i’m never fully restored. And sometimes when i wake up at night i think why the heck did i wake up for?!? Good to know, i’ll just go out and start a fire, lol. Maybe some neighbors will join too. Thanks again, great article!

  25. Chris says:

    WOW!!!! Great, great article. I have struggled with sleep issues for a long, long time. My personal sleep pattern seems to be that I wake up every 4 hours at night. Lots of times, I can get back to sleep. Sometimes, however, I get up and work or read until I feel tired again. Then, I can sleep another 3 or 4 hours. I also really benefit from 15-minute naps. Thank you for shedding some much-needed light on a subject that causes some of us stress over “not doing it right.” I’m going to keep this one. Thank you, Frederic.

  26. Mike Maybury says:

    At age 16 until 75 I have had only 5 hours sleep nightly.
    Combined with a wholefood vegetarian diet this has kept me well, with ‘flu once only as an adult and no colds for several years.
    Following the general advice I have increased this to 6 or 7 hours recently.
    At 78 I fell fine with no aches and pains, and drug free ( except for a 75mg. aspirin on alternate days.
    Lack of energy has never been a problem.

  27. Afke says:

    ABsolutely awesome article. How does menopause effect our sleep pattern. Lots of my girl friends wake around 3.00 am ( hot sweats) and have trouble falling asleep again.

  28. Sarah says:

    Interesting article for thought! No matter how late I go to bed, my internal alarm clock wakes me up at the same time every morning.

    So usually, I’ll take short naps (20-30 min is how my body functions) during the day, whenever I feel I need it.

    I love learning about the indigenious people’s lifestyles!

  29. Great info!! I have never been able to sleep all the way through the night my entire life that I can recall, and never feel rested when I get more than 8-9 hours of sleep.

  30. Brianne says:

    Have you researched much on the connection between earthing and sleep? Ever since my family has been grounded, I have to say, our sleep has improved.

  31. To put it bluntly, I would most emphatically say the opposite. That sleep is most definitely UNDER-rated!

    Our society is constantly striving to make excuses for poor behavior that leads to a less enjoyable and much less productive (of things that really matter) life!

    So in keeping with the context of this article, in my humble experience I repeat, Sleep is underrated.

  32. Betoman says:

    Rumi, ancient poet said, “The morning breeze has secrets to tell; do not go back to sleep.”

  33. Gary Collier says:

    It has been shown that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after. I tested this theory on myself. If I go to sleep at midnight, I wake up at 8 am. If I go to sleep at 11 pm, I wake up at 6am. If I go to sleep at 10pm, I wake up at 4am. Back in the day, people who worked on farms only slept 5 or 6 hours a night because they were going to sleep not long after it got dark. They had no problem waking up at 3 or 4 am to start their chores. People need to take this into consideration when trying to decide if they are getting “enough” sleep….

  34. Kym says:

    Very informative and balanced article, Frederic. I have had similar “sleep issues” to you since my late teens and have also looked at this in depth, reaching much the same conclusions. One very simple factor I’ve found to be important is just to have a regular bedtime (five or so days a week), regardless of the time you usually go to bed or sleep pattern you follow. I know it’s one of those things you read in every sleep article but I find it’s key.

    One thing I would add is there have been several significant reports published on sleep physiology in the last year. These give some insight into why humans and animals actually need to sleep. I’ll put a couple of (media) links below but you may also wish to google glymphatic system and genetic expression in relation to sleep.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24567412
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/brains-flush-toxic-waste-in-sleep-including-alzheimers-linked-protein-study-of-mice-finds/2013/10/19/9af49e40-377a-11e3-8a0e-4e2cf80831fc_story.html

  35. Wei says:

    I like to study my dreams and if I don’t get enough sleep I cannot recall/remember any dreams after I wake up. It feels like I have wasted a whole night. for those of you who need 8-9 hours of sleep like I do why not make the long night of sleep a learning experience? Try to recall a dream or two and write it down. You will be surprised and amazed what you can learn. It’s like killing two birds with one stone…you gain knowledge from your dreams while your body rests.
    Sweet dreams!

  36. Gudrun says:

    i appreciate this article! as my own sleep varies from the so-called norm i recently wondered if this 8 hr sleep thing is not just an “industry standard”; i was fairly sure tribal people with no clocks and electricity do not sleep 8 hours out in the bush or jungle
    thanks for bringing some clarity

  37. Soorena says:

    Frederic, this was a fantastic article, thank you 🙂

  38. Joanna says:

    Thank you…thank you….thank you. I have experienced interrupted sleep for over 20 years and struggled with frustration over how to align myself with the standard ‘recommendations’ without chemical pharmaceuticals and making myself wrong for not being able to sleep for more than 506 hours. I bought into all the talk about not getting enough ‘restoritive sleep’ which can lead to various physical and mental problems.
    This article is a breath of fresh air for me. Now I can give myself permission to go to be when I feel like it, get up in the middle of the night and sleep in the day when I can. I can’t thank you enough and I look forward to experimenting with a new routine.

  39. mork says:

    I don’t mind napping, but my biological clock then gets used to it and the next day I get tired around the same time, even if I am at work!! So to me routine is most important. I wish I had the luxury to have a nap whenever.

  40. Mark says:

    I agree with the article. We don’t need 8 hours of sleep. In my opinion, 8 hours is way too long. A range between 5-7 hours of sleep a night is perfect. It’s enough to get you well-rested without feeling lazy.

    Check out my blog at http://www.plyometric-cardio-circuit.com/ to learn more about health and fitness related articles.

  41. Dorien says:

    Hi Frederic,

    Interesting post. One remark though. As a researcher, I find ik striking that your refer to numbers and “it has been found that..” without posting a reference to the source.

    Although I believe your good intentions, your articles would benefit much from adding sources, preferably peer reviewed sources that can be easily found on scholar.google.com for instance.

    Just a tip as I want as many people as possible to pick up on your tips.

  42. Salut Frederic!

    Quand on ne se reveille jamais par nous-même au bout de 8 hres et même plus et qu’on dormirais toujours plus, que penses-tu de cela?

    • Ça dépend… le sommeil le matin comprend plus de sommeil de stade 5 (REM), donc rempli de rêve. Si on reste au lit et qu’on continue à dormir on fini souvent par se lever fatigué. A moins d’avoir vraiment un manque de sommeil, il est souvent mieux de se lever et dormir un peu dans l’après midi si possible. Le sommeil l’après-midi comprend plus de sommeil de stade 2 et 3-4, donc plus réparateur.

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