Thursday, March 01, 2007


This week the New Scientist discussed the old wives' tale about 'sleeping on a problem' reporting the research which showed that sleep 'helps us extract themes and rules from the masses of information we soak up during the day'.

But how much sleep is needed?
According to Maas, the prehistoric genetic blueprint for sleep has not evolved fast enough to keep up with the pace of twenty-first century living. Humans are more likely to need an average of ten hours sleep a night rather than the four hours on which Margaret Thatcher was famously able to get by. Maas also claims that everyone maintains a personal sleep bank account, and as a rule of thumb for every two waking hours incurs a sleep debt of around one hour is incurred. Maas and others argue that modern society is a sleep-deprived society and notes that over the past twenty years an extra month of working hours has been added to the annual working and commuting time. In fact, the British work longer hours than any other nation in Europe, and sleep one-and-a-half hours less per night than two generations ago. This is not to say that everyone needs ten hours of sleep a night, or that people cannot survive on much less. However, it does raise the question that you may not have addressed, as to whether you are getting too little sleep for your own body.
...In the words of Samuel Pepys "And so to bed."


jmb said...

The psychologist Stanley Coren wrote a book about this some years ago, called Sleep Thieves. (He's better known for his dog books.) His hypothesis is that we have been sleep deprived since the invention of electricity.

Now what's the answer to this one?

In actual fact we, in general, work much less than we did before the twentieth century. But now we expect to have it all, work and as much leisure time as work time and sleep is the thing that suffers. And what's more, it seems we can survive on less sleep than the amount we were really designed to have.

You know what? I'm retired and even I don't allow enough time for sleep.

Ian Lidster said...

Alas, I am woefully sleep deprived, but not for want of it being otherwise. I cannot muster more than 6 hours and regularly awaken at between 5 and 5:30. I console myself that Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill got by on cat-naps, Samuel Pepys notwithstanding.
So, I guess my sleep deficit is huge, Michelle.
Cheers (yawn!)

Big Brother said...

Maybe Maggie got along with only four hours of sleep a night but just look at what she did to the UK. Maybe if she had gotten more sleep she would have been a bit more mellow. ;o)

Dr No No said...

if only the working day in the UK could be made to incorporate a "siesta" like some other places...then we might actually get somewhere near breaking even on this sleep debt!!

SeaSpray said...

For me - 8 hrs perfect,7 doable and 6 is what I usually do, even with not working - but then I will compensate somewhere, which is when I might go for the 9 or 10 hrs. One of my goals over the next 6-7 weeks is to consistently get enough sleep - every night.

I have heard that you can't make up sleep deprivation by sleeping in on the weekend, etc. because it is like exercise. You can't not exercise for months and then go crazy with it for two weeks and think you will be as fit as when you exercise for months.

I heard a story about sleep deprivation years ago on one of the talk shows. A man had worked an 80 hr week, but made sure he got 8 hrs of sleep the night before he was to travel to a company meeting. he fell asleep at the wheel and slumped over sideways while his car went straight under a tractor trailer. If he hadn't slumped over sideways he would've been decapitated. He lived. Sleep is cumulative so we have to keep replenishing that sleep bank.

Our bodies repair while we are sleeping. Also, eating before bedtime is not only bad for maintaining a good weight but also because we need to give out bodies a chance to rest. Otherwise we wake up tired because our body had to work all night to digest the food.

Breakfast - break fast - break the fast. Heard that somewhere in reference to not eating before bed.

simon said...

All interesting.

I used to survive on 4 hours sleep. I worked 60 hours + a week, the get up at 4 am for pilates, of an evening I rode a bike...

cannot say if it was good or bad, only that I liked not to waste time...

Now i sleep more, but wish i did not.

SeaSpray said...

Sometimes, I have wished that we didn't have to sleep because so many things to do. :)

Anonymous said...

I think we all know why Samuel Pepys said those words, he was quite horny.

I do love my sleep and nod off as soon as my head hits the pillow, it's pure bliss. And the important thing is to have a good mattress, my husband is in the trade so that is our one luxury.

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

What a pleasure to have so many comments, many thanks to you all.

jmb - it has indeed been said that as our brains are attune to the day-night light patterns, electricity can cause sleep distruption.

Ian and Big Brother - it is said that Maggie was another lady who actually was fond of cat naps. I think some people call them power naps!

dr no no - I think the siesta idea is being considered. But no matter what drs will still work on a 24 hour system!

Seaspray - good luck with your sleep goals. It is thought that only one hour of sleep deprivation can be made up per night, so sleep deprication can not be all crammed into a weekend cure....alas.

Simon - sounds like you need less sleep than many people. But time spent asleep is not necessarily wasted time.

Ellee - sounds like you know about good mattresses, plus I guess they are good for sleep and for spines.

Thanks again to you all for your kind comments. Michelle

Lorri said...

I need my eight hours, and if I don't get it, I am difficult to deal with in the morning. LOL, well, I am not a morning person, even with eight hours sleep.

I have a great mattress, good pillows, and fall asleep almost immediately.

SeaSpray said...

I also have heard that you will get better sleep if your head is pointing to the north but no longer remember why. Also, that emf waves can interfere with sleep. If you sleep in the room where the breaker box is that you should not sleep near it because of the extra electricity in there. however, if the breaker box is located on the north side of the room then I don't know what the guideline is. :)

It is difficult not to be around electricity because of today's modern technology - computers,TiVo's and all kinds of equipment that is constantly running.

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Copyright 2007 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

Liz Hinds said...

I love sleeping! I love that moment when I get into bed and snuggle down. But I don't think I get enough sleep (8 hours a night on average) so I definitely agree with this report and will link to it from my blog. (I hope you don't mind.)