People fixate on how long they should sleep, like they fixate on the numbers on the scale. This fixation on how many hours they sleep to determine if they are a good sleeper is harmful.
What is the number that you always hear? Get 8 hours of sleep. This is repeated over and over again until it becomes the golden number to achieve if you want to be a great sleeper. For someone that doesn’t have an issue with falling asleep or staying asleep this number doesn’t have any power over them. But what if you have insomnia? What if you have a hard time falling asleep at night?
As you are lying awake in bed at midnight, you turn and look at the clock. You immediately start doing mental calculations. If I fall asleep now, I can still get 7 hours. And then this continues all night with minimal sleep ensuing.
Why are we so enamored with 8 hours? Focusing only on how many hours of sleep you get instead of the other factors like quality, continuity, and regularity sets you up for anxiety and stress at night.
I’ll give you an example. Say you went out at night with your friends and got home around 10pm. Even though your nervous and arousal system are not primed yet for sleep, you hop right into bed because you need your 8 hours. Your body wasn’t primed yet for sleep so you lay there for another 1.5 hours before falling asleep. The stress of not falling asleep builds and if repeated enough becomes more chronic.
As insomnia sets in, the allure of 8 hours gets stronger. Who can blame you? You just want to get back to sleeping like you used too. This draw to getting back to 8 hours creates a stress and anxiety response now when you get into bed. This in turn keeps you up as your mind spins. Do you notice how you become more inflexible with your bedtime? Meaning you climb into bed even if you are not sleepy because if tonight is the night you will sleep you want to make sure you get 8 hours.
In reality, you have a different sleep requirement than the person sitting next to you. This is due to genetics, how much energy you expand each day, and natural circadian rhythms.
Instead focusing so much on a number, pay attention to other things about your sleep. Things like
Quality – How do you feel when you wake up? How is your energy level throughout the day?
Consistency – Do you hold a pretty consistent bed and wake up time?
Regularity – Do you have more nights you sleep well over bad nights?
My name is Jason Piper, founder of Build Better Sleep. I work with business professionals to rebuild their sleep.