Wellness

The myth of the eight hour rest: Do we really need to sleep so much?

Sure, we’re all tired — exhausted even. But do we really need the oft-quoted eight hours of sleep a night in order to be at our best during waking hours?

Couple sleeping

Masterfile

Sure, we’re all tired — exhausted even. But do we really need the oft-quoted eight hours of sleep a night in order to be at our best during waking hours? Or is the pressure to get so many sleeping hours under our belt actually making us more stressed and contributing to the problem of insomnia?

A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times suggests that human beings don’t really need eight hours of sleep a night. In fact, writes David K. Randall, “neither our bodies nor our brains are built for the roughly one-third of our lives that we spend in bed.”

Additionally, offers Randall, the pressure to get eight hours may be one of the factors that make us toss and turn at night.

“Rather than helping us to get more rest, the tyranny of the eight-hour block reinforces a narrow conception of sleep and how we should approach it. Some of the time we spend tossing and turning may even result from misconceptions about sleep and our bodily needs,” he writes.

Randall presents what he feels is a more natural alternative to one solid night’s slumber: a “split sleep schedule,” which describes the act of falling asleep for a few hours, then naturally waking up only to fall asleep again or later.

For Randall, there’s a backlog of historical precedent to support this vision of a more casual approach to the need for rest — he cites literary texts and scientific works that stretch back hundreds of years to support this former vision of sleep.

But there’s modern precedent too. He cites a recent study that found that when left to their own devices and minus any electronic distractions, people often fell into a sleeping pattern that included a period of wakefulness. For the author this indicates that if “given a chance to be free of modern life, the body would naturally settle into a split sleep schedule.”

Letting go of the “tyranny” of the eight-hour sleep may be one of the most effective and natural sleep aids you can give yourself this evening. That and a warm bath.

How many hours a night do you sleep?