Forget sleeping like a baby, I aspire to sleep like a cat. They can sleep anywhere, any time, on anything. The washing machine, the printer, a hair brush, a basket of clean washing – all appear to be equally comfortable. Sadly, we’re not all so gifted.
I was reading an article by @cryptomancer yesterday about being addicted to being awake, and sleep being for the weak. This is certainly a big part of our societal problem with getting enough sleep. We have so much that we want to cram into our day that sleep just doesn’t fit in. So maybe sometimes we’re really not getting enough sleep.
Myths about sleep
But there’s another aspect to it – and that’s the WORRY that we’re not getting enough sleep, or not sleeping at the right times. Let’s first look at three prevalent sleep myths, and then break them down a bit.
Myth 1 – We all need eight hours sleep
Everywhere I look I see another article about the dangers of not enough sleep and how we need 7-9 hours sleep or terrible things will happen. But is that true for everybody?
Myth 2 – We need to sleep during specific times
It’s also trendy to talk about sleeping during the hours of darkness and we should all sleep from dusk till dawn like our Paleo ancestors. And that the time between 10.30 and midnight is especially important. What’s a girl who can’t get to sleep before midnight to do?
Myth 3 – We need to sleep in one uninterrupted chunk
Certainly some people do, and one of them lives in this house. My guess is that this is true for the majority, but not for all.
Do we all need eight hours sleep?
It’s fairly common knowledge that we need different amounts of sleep during different times of our lives. But not so commonly admitted that we might not need as much sleep as we think.
I listened to an interview with Dr Michael Breus, also known as the Sleep Doctor, recently. More about his discoveries below, but the first thing of interest was that this sleep expert came right out and said that we all have different sleep requirements. He himself feels rested and well on 6.5 hours of sleep.
So if, like Dr Breus, you wake feeling refreshed and alert after 6 or 6.5 hours of sleep, to me you don’t have a sleep problem.
Different Sleeping Styles
Let’s look at four theories on different sleeping styles. Two are looking more at the timing of our sleep. The other two are offering alternatives to the more common monophasic sleep (ie sleeping in one chunk).
Larks vs Owls
We’re all familiar with the concept of larks vs owls. I flatted with a lark once. When I dragged my sorry arse into the kitchen at some obscenely early hour of the morning (you know, like 7.30am) there she would be chirping away and expecting me to answer. I don’t think I’m an extreme owl but it was always better if nobody spoke to me till about 15 minutes after I was sitting at my desk and had my head around the day.
To recap – larks are up and at it early in the day. Owls tend to hit their stride about when larks going to bed.
Dolphins, Lions, Bears and Wolves
This concept come from Dr Breus. He has just released a book called The Power of When, which I must get along to Amazon and find. In this book he talks more about the four types and what times are good for each of them for various activities.
In the interview I listened to, he described the four types.
• Lions like to be up very early, to “hunt” at dawn.
• Bears run very well on the timing that is most commonly accepted in our society.
• Wolves go best later in the day. They can work well into the small hours and sleep during the day. They tend to be more creative.
• Dolphins – ah, now it got interesting for me – they sleep very lightly and sometimes feel like they haven’t slept at all.
I did his questionnaire and it said I was a bear. The video description of a bear was as unlike me as you could possibly be. So I went back and did it again, selecting different answers where I’d had trouble deciding between 2 options. It still said I was a bear. When I finished shouting at the screen that there was no $%^* way I was a bear, I just decided for myself. Possibly I’m a wolf, but I think I’m a dolphin. The book will probably shed more light.
But oddly enough, finally being at peace with being a light sleeper, and accepting that if I end up feeling like I lay awake all night, that’s ok, it doesn’t mean I’m broken – that’s when my sleeping turned a corner and really improved.
Sleep 1 and Sleep 2
This concept has been doing the rounds lately. The theory is that throughout most of human history, people didn’t sleep for 8 hours. They slept for about 4-5 hours. Then they had a time when they did quiet activities like reading, prayer, visiting neighbours, making love. Then they went back to sleep for another few hours. This would be one form of Biphasic sleep - the practice of sleeping during two periods over 24 hours.
Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. But I like the concept. I like feeling like it’s not my fault if I need to spend an hour reading in the middle of the night. And in the end, any belief that reduces your stress and worry abut not sleeping is a helpful one.
The more commonly known Biphasic pattern is having a nap during the day. If this works for you, and you can fit it into your schedule, I’d go for it.
Polyphasic is where sleep is split into more than two phases a day. One downside is that you need to keep to a rigid schedule to make it work. Another is that for most people it would be untenable, because we need to fit in with other people’s schedules. But if that’s not an issue for you, and it seems to match your natural inclination, there are several ways of doing this.
Everyman Cycle = One longer “core” nap that is supplemented with several 20-30 minute naps, with equal amounts of time in between each nap. This is the most flexible. Usually either:
• 1 x 3 hour nap + 3 x 20-minute naps, or
• 1 x 1.5 hour nap + 4-5 x 20 minute naps
Uberman Cycle = 20 to 30 minute naps every 4 hours, resulting in 6 naps a day.
Dymaxion Cycle = 30 minutes every 6 hours. This was developed by Buckminster Fuller based on his belief that we have two energy tanks. The first is easy to replenish whereas the second tank (second wind) is much harder to replenish.
Hmm, I could see myself doing the first variant of the Everyman Cycle. That could work quite well for a dolphin.
There are people successfully using many different sleep cycles and different periods of sleep, not just the PC ones. Just knowing that gives us permission to relax about how we sleep.
The first step is letting go of the concern that we’re “doing it wrong”. Then we can experiment with what fits in with our lifestyle and natural inclinations.
The bottom line is – do you feel rested and healthy?
Some of you might go away and play with today’s ideas and that might be all you need.
Some of you might be getting lots of sleep, and still feel fatigued. In that case, your problem is not a sleep problem, and is a topic for a different health series.
And some of you might play with your sleep cycles and still have trouble falling or staying asleep. The rest of the series is for you. Stay tuned…