A healthy and functional member of the society should have its day divided into three, even, 8-hour sessions. Right? So, eight hours for work, eight hours for play, and eight hours for sleep. Most people consider this to be normal and, often, without knowing why?
The logic behind this is that people who like to sleep longer are wasting their time, or they are simply lazy. The people who sleep less are risking their health. Well, none of this is true.
The truth is that we all need a different amount of sleep. Our required sleeping hours are biologically preset. That is the main reason why some people only need six or fewer hours to feel rested while others need ten. But, what if you can train yourself to sleep less?
A day only has 24 hours, and sleeping long is not very useful if you wish to make the best use of your time. There is no doubt that sleeping less would be great if you could still feel fresh and energized afterward.
The question is how to function on less sleep? If you want to know the answer, look no further than this article.
What is sleep, and why do you need it?
Forget about your watch or the time on your cell phone. Your body runs on its internal clock. All of your body's functions run on this clock, in 24-hour cycles. Scientists call them circadian rhythms. Among the most important ones is the sleep-wake cycle.
The reason why the night is the “natural time to sleep” is because your brain’s activity is under the influence of light and other environmental factors. That is why all your circadian rhythms are in-sync with the day and night cycle.
If you choose to adjust your sleeping habits with this natural cycle, your quality of sleep will improve, and you will feel well and rested. On the other hand, if you move away from it, the quality of your sleep will suffer, and you will face sleeping problems.
Sleep is a different state of body and mind compared to wakefulness. When you sleep, your consciousness is changed, and your ability to interact with the surroundings is low. Voluntary muscle activity is low or paralyzed (REM stage). Your body needs this “break” from daytime activities to restore and repair itself.
There are four stages of sleep. These are:
- Stage 1 Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM)
- Stage 2 NREM
- Stage 3 NREM
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Stage
Stage 1 NREM is the transitional light sleep stage. It only lasts several minutes. During this stage, your heart rate and breathing slow down, and the muscles start to relax, preparing for a deeper sleep.
Stage 2 NREM is the longest stage characterized by deeper sleep and a drop in body temperature.
Stage 3 NREM is the stage of maximum muscle relaxation and the lowest rate of breathing, heartbeat, and brain wave activity. The longer this stage lasts, the more refreshed you will feel when you wake up.
The REM sleep cycle is the dreaming stage. The heart rate and the breathing rate begin to increase, the arms and legs become paralyzed, and the eyes start to move under the eyelids during this stage of sleep. Studies show that memory consolidation (formation of long-term memories) occurs during REM sleep.
All four stages are valuable for quality sleep, and sleeping well is beneficial for both physical and mental health. Good night's sleep increases your quality of life and adds to your safety by influencing the way that you react, think, learn, work, and interact with other people.
Sleeping well will also help you to:
- Control emotions and behavior
- Learn faster
- Solve problems
- Make decisions
- Cope with changes
How Sleep Deprivation Affects The Body?
Most people are familiar with the short-term effects of sleep deprivation. We've all felt grumpy and tired after one awful night of sleep. But what happens if that one night becomes every night?
Long-term sleep deprivation can cause many health problems, ranging from memory issues to weak immunity.
Physical health issues associated with the chronic lack of sleep are:
- Increased blood pressure
- Higher heart disease risk
- Weight gain
- Increased type 2 diabetes risk
- Poor balance
- Weaker immune system (you are more likely to catch a cold or flu)
Mental health is also affected. Sleep deprivation leads to:
- Mood changes
- Memory issues
- Trouble with thinking
- Low sex drive
- Anxiety and depression
Sleep deprivation is not caused only by the lack of sleep. Low quality of sleep is often the cause too. That is why sometimes you might ask yourself: How do I feel better with less sleep? It’s because a shorter, deeper, and uninterrupted sleep is always better than nine or ten hours of tossing and turning in bed.
If your quality of sleep is high, you can train yourself to sleep less. You will have more time available during the day, and never experience the symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as:
- Irritability, and
Chronic sleep deprivation is often responsible for accidents. If you are tired, sleepy, and your coordination is off, you are more likely to cause an accident and get injured. Additionally, lack of sleep can lead to paranoia and suicidal thoughts.
Is there such a thing as sleeping too much?
The answer to this question is yes. It is called oversleeping, and it could be terrible for you.
As we've already explained, you cannot determine the quality of sleep by the number of hours. If you regularly sleep longer than nine hours, and you wake up feeling great and energized, you do not need to change anything.
However, if you do not feel well-rested after sleeping for many hours, you might have a problem with oversleeping. Your body could be trying to compensate for low sleep quality with more sleeping time.
Many factors can potentially influence the quality of your sleep. Some of them are environmental such as light, noise, uncomfortable bed, etc. Certain foods, drinks (coffee), and medications can cause sleeping problems too. Chronic pain, anxiety, or depression, and sleep disorders such as bruxism, PLMD, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea are also among the common causes of low sleep quality.
The good news is that for most of these problems there are solutions, but oversleeping is not one of them.
So, if you are sleeping longer but still not feeling fresh and recharged in the morning, start thinking about how to reduce sleep. Researchers agree that oversleeping could be bad for your health. It can also be a sign of a more serious pre-existing condition.
Therefore, it is often difficult to determine what came first, the oversleeping, or the disease. So far, oversleeping is strongly associated with an increased risk of:
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Chronic pain
Some studies show that fatigue, irritability, lethargy, impaired memory, and decreased cognitive function are shared issues between the people who sleep too little and those who sleep too long.
What is the right amount of sleep?
Experts agree that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep during the night to avoid the short-term and long-term consequences of sleep deprivation.
The necessary amount of sleep changes throughout the lifetime. The older you get, the less sleep you need. Even some stages of sleep become shorter with age.
Children need to sleep the most. It is invaluable for their overall development. For youngest children, however, daytime sleeping makes up a significant part of total sleeping hours.
The following are the recommended sleeping hours per day for different age groups:
These are generally adopted guidelines, not rules. Your personal need for sleep can still be outside of the optimal range. For example, if you are very active during the day you may require additional sleeping time. But you can still enjoy quality sleep and remain completely healthy.
Take different factors into account when you are trying to figure out the best amount of sleep for yourself:
- Your health – are you suffering from depression or any chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes?
- Your level of physical activity – Is your job labor intensive? Do you engage in other exhausting activities?
- How much caffeine you consume – Are you an avid coffee drinker. Do you drink coffee or energy drinks before sleeping?
- Do you sleep longer on your free days?
- Are you suffering from any sleep disorders? – Apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, etc. are some of the sleep disorders that can seriously affect your sleeping pattern.
Why some people need less sleep?
Some people do not spend much time sleeping. Yes, real people. They don't spend too much time in bed, but they are usually full of energy, healthy, and slim. Their bodies need less time to restore energy, so these people sleep more efficiently.
Less sleep does not affect everyone in the same way. People who naturally sleep less than seven hours do not suffer from sleep deprivation issues, described earlier in this article. They can sleep six or only four hours without consequences for their mental or physical health.
All of this is nothing short of amazing. However, it does not explain why these people need less sleep than others?
Researchers involved in a recent study about "naturally short sleepers" believe they have found the reason. A rare mutation on the ADRB1 gene is responsible for a shortened sleep cycle.
The copies of this mutated gene run in the family. So, all family members who inherit them have a reduced need for sleep.
The ADRB1 gene plays a significant role in the complex regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. Scientists are still not sure how it affects the sleep, but the experiments they did with mice only confirm that the ADRB1 is the main culprit.
So, "short sleeping" is a natural genetic thing. But this does not mean that you cannot train yourself to sleep less.
Myths about sleep
Many myths about sleep have been around for a long time. Often, they are left unquestioned. So, they live on, accepted as common knowledge.
You’ve probably heard a few sleep myths. You might even believe in them. Well, the time has come to debunk some of those myths. Here are the top three sleep myths that are not true:
- The snooze button gets you a power nap.
The alarm sound is a sleep disruptor. If you press the snooze button, you are asking for more sleep disruption. Snoozing harms your mood and mental flexibility. Don't snooze. – If you snooze, you lose.
- The brain shuts down during sleep.
The activity of your brain slows down when you fall asleep. However, the brain does not shut down. If it did, you would stop breathing. During the REM stage, brain activity shoots back up to wakefulness levels.
- Alcohol helps you to sleep better.
When you wake up, you want to feel fresh and rested. Alcohol does not allow that. It will make you fall asleep faster, but it will lower your quality of sleep.
How to train your body to sleep less?
You can go to bed at night, but this does not mean that you will sleep. A lot of time gets wasted this way.
Going to sleep and falling asleep are two very different things. The only way to prevent tossing and turning is to change your habits and routine so that you can make the best use of the little time that you spend sleeping.
Here is how you can train your body to sleep less:
- Take time to wind down.
The key here is to relax before sleeping. Begin the bedtime routine an hour early. Brush your teeth, wash your face, put your pajamas on, and dim the lights.
- Get your eyes off the screen.
TV’s, smartphones, and computers are not allowed during the wind-down time. Blue light tricks your brain and interferes with the secretion of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
- Quit the afternoon coffee
A cup of coffee in the morning is fine. But caffeine can stay in your body for up to 6 hours. So, if you consume caffeine in any form, later in the day, you might have trouble falling asleep.
- Don’t sleep in a hot room.
Cooler temperatures are better for sleeping. The heat harms the REM stage of sleep. Room temperature between 15 and 20°C (60 to 68°F) is perfect for sleeping.
Daily exercise lowers stress levels, makes you feel more tired, and improves sleep quality.
- Reduce the noise
Try using earplugs if you live in a place where nighttime noise is a problem.
- Don't eat late.
Heavy meals late at night harm sleep.
- Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol consumption lowers the quality of sleep. It causes dehydration and stops you from waking up refreshed.
- Try reading a book.
Reading a real book is much different from reading something on the screen of a computer or a smartphone. Reading reduces stress and makes you fall asleep faster.
- Don’t hold on to an old mattress or pillow.
If your mattress and pillow are not comfortable, consider replacing them with newer ones.
The Bottom Line
Now you know everything there is to know about sleep. The best way to improve your sleep is to understand all that affects it, your habits, and all the other factors. Once you identify everything that stands in your way towards a good night's sleep, you will be ready to decide if less sleep is the change you need.
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- National Institutes of Health. Gene Identified in People Who Need Little Sleep. NIH Research Matters. (2019, September 17). Retrieved from: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/gene-identified-people-who-need-little-sleep