The Eight-hour Sleep Myth

The Eight-hour Sleep Myth


The general sleep recommendation for adults is 7 - 9 hours. Therefore the assumption that 8 hours of sleep is the golden rule. Maybe not. Psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted a photoperiodicity experiment in the 1990s. He confined a group of volunteers in darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. The first night they slept an average of 11 hours. This was attributed to repaying sleep debt. In the following weeks, a distinct sleeping pattern soon emerged.


Subjects were found to sleep in a broken pattern. They initially slept for 4 hours, were awake for 1 - 2 hours then fell into another 4-hour sleep. Despite the interesting findings, the general recommendation for sleep is a minimum 6-8 hours of uninterrupted rest. 


One historian from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Roger Ekirch, has researched on this subject for 16 years. He discovered an overwhelming amount of evidence (>500 references) that humans historically slept in a segmented sleeping pattern.


According to Roger Ekirch, this 1595 engraving by Jan Saenredam depicts night activity. In his book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, there is considerable evidence showing the preference for broken sleep fashion. Similar to Wehr's experiment findings, a common link is the tendency for humans to have two separate sleeping periods. In fact, Ekirch went on to suggest that this was the social convention of our forefathers way back in the 1600s. So for those of you having sleeping woes, fret not, perhaps you are more adapted to the sleeping patterns to those before you.


In any case, here are some sleeping tips in times of unrest.


Sleeping Tips


Procrastinate worrying

Stress & anxiety are inevitable in today's society. However, make an active approach by noting down your concerns on a piece of paper and assure yourself that there will be time allocated the next day to properly address the issue.


Fret not over insomnia  

Ironically, the tendency to worry over one's inability to sleep can be reinforcing the insomnia as stress builds up. One good alternative around this is to focus on the body sensations and feelings. Constant cues to your body to sleep is the key to induce a good night rest.


Three pronged approach

The emphasis should be on relaxation instead of sleep. Promoting relaxation will encourage a little siesta before you know it.

  1. Deep breathing. Close your eyes and use slow progressive deep breaths will help relax your body. Take a deeper breath than the previous one and remember to remain in a comfortable position.
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation. Tense one part of your body as tightly as possible in a controlled fashion. Then completely relax. Continue in a clockwise manner to ensure all muscles are worked. You can also start from the toes and work your way to the head. 
  3. Visualisation. One of our greatest trademarks is our ability to imagine. Picture a tranquil setting of your preference. Green lush sprawling fields or a Zen enclave in the mountains. Concentrate on how relaxed the place makes you feel.


Do non-stimulating activities

Laying in bed and still no sign of rest? Have some quiet book reading time but refrain from using electronic devices as they emit a stimulating light to the brain. Consider a light snack. It ensures higher satiety level and that your stomach isn't contributing to your insomnia.