Here’s the thing: yes it can. Sleep need varies from one person to the next and young people tend to need more than the elderly. Einstein apparently needed 10-11 hours of sleep, whereas Margaret Thatcher famously only slept for five hours a night. We also need different amounts of sleep during our life span. Even more so, comparing/calculating hours is pretty pointless because the quality aspect matters equally much.
Some experts talk even about PR scam that forces us to worry if we don’t get 8 hours of sleep every night (leading to unnecessary drug use). I haven’t yet come across a sleep expert (now referring to doctors and professors specialised on sleep) who says that 8 hours per night is a must. When you keep a simple sleep diary you start to see what feels right amount and when/why the sleep feels especially refreshing.
Dr Gregg D Jacobs claims this belief that everyone must get eight hours of sleep is a myth. In his book Say Goodnight to Insomnia he explains that people are not the same height and weight and their sleep needs vary the same way. Although adults average just under 7.5 hours of night-time sleep, many individuals function effectively on less. In fact, as much as 20% of the population sleeps 6 or fewer hours per night and research shows that there are individuals who function perfectly with as little as 3 hours per night. To challenge this all, there’s even some research to suggest that too much sleep can cause us to feel lethargic.
The quantity and quality of sleep changes as we age. You know best what is enough sleep for you. Knowing better yourself will help to put more realistic expectations on sleep.
Some experts also speak about two types of sleep: core sleep versus optional sleep. Core sleep is the first three sleep cycles (the initial 4-5 hours of sleep) necessary for human beings to function normally and properly. Optional sleep is the ‘nice to have’ sleep that we can reasonably do without – another ~4 hours. However, there are also large variations in how much sleep we need according to our stage of growth and aging (see table below). Table below shows typical sleep requirements. Please bear in mind that some people survive with 3-5 hour sleep a night. Genetic differences explain biggest deviations.
Sleep changes as we age. Dr Gregg D Jacobs says that our bodies change in many ways as we get older. Sleep makes no difference. As we age, the amount of sleep we get decreases (see above). The most age-related change in sleep concerns its quality, which drops in middle-age. We start to produce less deep sleep and sleep more lightly. We also wake up more often and for longer periods. By the time we reach our seventies, deep sleep has practically disappeared. As a consequence, elderly people sleep even more lightly and are more easily disturbed by different causes.
These 3 questions help you to evaluate whether you are getting enough sleep:
- Do you need an alarm clock to wake up?
- Do you sleep in ‘reserve’ on weekends?
- Do you frequently fall asleep during meetings/lecturers/boring activities/in front of TV?
If you answered no to each question, you may be getting enough sleep and try to get more sleep than you actually really need.
I admit being brainwashed by the common 8-hour-myth so widely shared and spread in the media. I tried to aim to sleep 8 hours per night when 7 is enough for me. I also stressed about waking up at night which, according to my own analysis and observation, has minimal effect my next day if I succeed to fall back asleep in 30 minutes, sometimes even 1 hour doesn’t have any impact.
The message here is fundamental: try to modify unrealistic beliefs and goals. Setting more realistic expectations is one (critical) step towards more relaxed attitude to sleep. This will eventually lead to better sleep.
Are you realistic with your sleep expectations? Does this must-get-8-hours irritate you?