Why getting 8 hours sleep is only half the story

You do need about 8 hours sleep a night, BUT…

You’ve heard the traditional advice that if you want to feel rested, refreshed and raring to go in the morning you need 8 hours sleep a night, give or take a bit. Plonk yourself down in bed at night, close your eyes, and voila, 8 hours or so later you’re as good as new. Or not.

The bad news is that 8 hours are only half the story. Like with so many things in life, wait – there’s more!

after 8 hours sleep

When it comes to sleep, it’s just not that simple. 8 hours is a good start, yes, but there is a whole lot of fine print to read through as well.

Once you start to dive deeply into the subject of sleep, you realize that it’s not just your bedtime routine that may need a step-up. Nearly everything you do during the course of the day and in the evening has an impact on how easily you fall asleep, how deeply you sleep, and how well you feel when you wake up the next morning.

An average of 8 hours sleep is generally considered the gold standard for wellbeing and performance. That covers the quantity, but what about the quality?

Not just Quantity, but Quality, counts when it comes to Sleep

Even more important than how long you sleep is getting the right kind of sleep, and enough of it. Obviously, how much sleep you need can and will vary from person to person. But let’s stick to the 8 hours rule here, because it does apply to most people.

8 hours spent asleep isn’t going to help your health and energy levels much if you don’t take into account other factors like getting enough Deep sleep or REM sleep. Each phase of sleep has a specific function and I’ve covered the different phases of sleep and what exactly they do for your mind and body in this article.

The standard advice is that we need between 7 to 9 hours sleep, 8 hours on average but allowing for differences in the individual and their circumstances. And generally that is good advice. However, to take this advice entirely on it’s own is similar to saying that for optimum nutrition the average person should eat somewhere between 1800 – 3000 calories, and then completely disregard what these calories are made up of. It’s only part of the story and you’ll only get part of the result.

Sleep problems are common

For many years I had problems getting a good night’s sleep. I worked late night shifts as well as an office job during the day. This combined the worst with the worst – exposure to artificial light during the day AND into the night, a sedentary day job and a much more physical night one. The routine played havoc with my circadian rhythms, plus the physical exertion at night meant that I was completely revved up by the time I got home and it took ages to relax enough to be able to sleep. I often had a drink or two to help me fall asleep, unaware that I was only making things worse. Come morning, I had to drag myself out of bed, bleary eyed, fatigued and bad tempered.

When I did manage to get a good night’s sleep – usually by accident or because my body was completely exhausted – the difference was astounding. The world became a better place, and I responded with optimism, energy, and benevolence to my fellow beings. I was happy. Everything was possible. Life was good. Little wonder I wanted to find out how I could sleep better. Imagine waking up like that every morning! There would be no more wars 🙂

Sleep is a beautiful and complex process

sleep is complex

Sleep involves far more than going to bed, closing your eyes and expecting to wake up 8 hours later fully recharged and ready to go. That probably only happened when you were a child. Not because children naturally know how to sleep better; their hormone levels and systems are far more efficient and flexible. Their entire environment and how they spend their days is different. They are extremely unlikely to spend hours each day sitting in an artificially lit office working on a computer screen. Children that are over-exposed to computer screens and under exposed to natural daylight are just as likely to develop sleeping problems as adults.

As a side note, when it comes to setting new standards for workplaces, Google’s new headquarters at Mountain View addresses these issues; their new premises will be covered by translucent canopies and have glass walls to allow plenty of natural light into the building.

How to switch on Recovery Mode

The body must go into Deep sleep to recover. To toss, turn and force yourself to stay in bed for 8 hours isn’t going to help your body do this. And if you worry too much about getting enough sleep that’s just as likely to keep you awake.

On that note; to wake up during the night is perfectly natural, especially as we get older. Don’t let the fact you wake up in the night fool you into thinking you had a bad night’s sleep. It isn’t true.

Your body will drift back into sleep when it’s ready to do so. It might take a little while, but if you fret about not getting back to sleep quickly and easily, it’s likely to take ever so much longer.

Here is a fun little tip:

Research has shown that people who try NOT to fall asleep, do in fact fall asleep quicker. You can try that next time you can’t get to sleep, or can’t get back to sleep after waking up during the night.

The next article will cover the how-to steps to considerably improve your night’s sleep.

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