How Much Sleep Do We Need?

My article about sleep making you faster is up today on Competitor. Summary: Seriously, go to bed!

Working on the article made me very self-conscious. I sleep a lot compared to plenty of people these days. But, I don’t ever feel rested. It’s not like I don’t know what chronic sleep deprivation feels like. I spent a few years never sleeping more than five hours a night. There was another year in college where construction was being done on a new building right outside our window (like cranes hitting the building and workmen standing on the other side of the glass waving) starting at 7 a.m. every morning. I learned to sleep through it, but it chronically made me dream of jackhammers. And, there was one time when I decided I would just take 45-minute naps every three hours. That didn’t last long after I started hallucinating that there were mice inside my pillow.

So, I know what that all feels like. These days, I sleep a decent amount, but still just feel tired. I have always assumed that 1. on the scale of people needing 7-9 hours, I was on the 9 hour end of things (I do NOT feel good with 7 hours of sleep) and 2. I am a night person, which doesn’t mesh well with modern work schedules and 3. I possibly have permanently screwed up my auto-immune system from mono and need more rest.

About right.
About right.

Here’s how much I’ve slept in the last few days:

Last night: seven hours of very poor sleep, waking up every 45 minutes
Tuesday night: seven hours of ok sleep + 45 minutes of Floyd sleeping on my face
Monday night: six hours straight + one hour before I took Floyd out of my bed + one-and-a-half hours on and off after I woke up but didn’t feel like getting up yet
Sunday night: ten hours fucking OUT
Saturday night: five hours on a couch + another hour on and off wondering if I should get up yet
Friday night: six-and-a-half hours + another 45 minutes or so laying in bed after Steve got up + like an hour beforehand when I couldn’t fall asleep

Basically, I’m in bed a decent amount. But, unless I’m EXHAUSTED, I’m not necessarily sleeping a decent amount or well.

The thing is, though, there may not be anything wrong with me. There’s a good amount of research out suggesting that what we’ve learned to accept as modern sleep schedules, 7-9 hours from 10-11 p.m. to 6-7 a.m., may not actually mesh with natural Circadian rhythms at all. Our patterns have changed through the centuries and what is considered a standard amount of sleep has changed over the years. This is largely because we no longer have the time to follow those patterns — what with electric light, why should we?

And, athletes need more sleep than anyone. They should most be foregoing societal standards about when you have to wake up. Ten hours a night actually has increased effects on performance (read my article). Yet, we love to go on about how little sleep we need, how we can make do, how that guy is a go-getter who is up at 4 a.m. It’s silly. I’m tired of people making me feel bad for sleeping so much or so late. Left to my own devices, I sleep 12:30 to 9:30 a.m., give or take. Obviously, I’m not left to my own devices most of the time. But, that doesn’t make someone who sleeps 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. better than me. It makes them sleepier.

6 thoughts on “How Much Sleep Do We Need?

  1. Good points all around. I think triathletes have a reputation for getting up insanely early to get their workouts in. I am not that triathlete. Thankfully I am able to get into work around 11am after waking up at 9:30am. I can’t even begin to fathom working out first thing in the morning. As an added bonus, night time is just awesome.

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