I Googled “are Americans sleep-deprived?” and there were so many results, that I couldn’t decide which one to link, so I’ll just let the reader do the work. Many articles confirmed my suspicion – something I’ve known about myself for years – that about 35% of Americans are not getting enough sleep. Many doctors, including mine, as well as researchers at the CDC, recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep regularly. The thing is, sleeping through the night is not that easy, and, when you look at human history, it may not have been possible, at least for some groups. People who followed herds across vast plains may have needed to pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Also, the threat of lurking predators might have required sleeping with one eye open. A modern study was conducted on present-day hunter-gatherer groups, all in the equatorial area or in the southern hemisphere. It found that those groups’ sleep patterns were very much like those of industrialized cultures. These modern hunter-gatherers live somewhat cut off from other societies, with no electricity. The thought was that they would closely resemble our ancestors going back about 10,000 years (granted, they couldn’t reproduce every facet of the environment). So, if we are to accept the findings, all our electric lights, smartphones, monitors and screens of every kind, they are not necessarily to blame for the general sleep-deprived state of about a third of us. So why are we so exhausted all the time?
Everyone is different. I have a friend who really only needs about 5.5 hours of sleep every night. As for me, I am useless with less than 8. Lately I have found myself getting very sleepy, in spite of sitting in front of my computer, around 10:30. What I discovered is that since I have been working out more, especially training on hills, I’ve found I need more sleep. Apparently there is some science to this, but I was only getting results from body building sites when I Googled it. But I can say that after an intense workout (intense for me, a middle-aged office worker) I get sleepy earlier than usual, and I sleep “harder”. What I mean by this is my sleep is more resilient, more sound. My dreams tend to be more vivid, and I wake up with no soreness now. It seems that healing is among the benefits of sleep. The morning after a workout, if I’ve had enough sleep, I do not feel any pain I might have experienced while exercising, not that I’m pushing myself that hard, I’m just clawing my way back to a semblance of fitness, and I have a way to go.
About 15 years ago I decided to perform an experiment. I went without the use of any kind of alarm clock. I started this while I was on vacation, as it were, so I didn’t have to risk being super late for work if it went awry. The first morning was interesting. I woke up a little earlier than usual. I spent my day doing stay-cation kinds of things. That night, as I had pledged to do, I went to bed when I was sleepy. The next morning, I woke up, completely alert, at 5:25 am. That night, I was in bed around 9:45. I mean, I was out. That’s the thing about me: I have never had trouble falling to sleep. I just like to find things to do to keep my mind occupied. I continued living without an alarm clock for several months. That lasted until my job changed and I needed to work nights from time to time.
Sleep is kind of a waste of time. If we are to get 8 hours of sleep each night, that’s a significant portion of our time. Sure, we have artificially divided the day up into blocks of 60 minutes, regardless of how much daylight there is. 24 hours is non-negotiable in our society. So if I need more sleep than someone else, I feel cheated. Given the difference, I might waste the extra time. Maybe not. I’m guessing that the researchers who compiled the sleep data on those hunter-gatherers probably lost some sleep, working overtime. I hope they got paid well.