Health & Fitness

10 Reasons You’re Not Getting 8 Hours of Sleep

Yes, you can actually blame your parents.

Sleep

People spend so much time, money, and energy trying to manage their sleep. Over the last few centuries, humans have developed very rigid rules for sleeping: Set a strict schedule, sleep for eight hours in one straight shot sealed off in a private bedroom, and separate parents from children. But for most of human history, no one slept this way, and so some of our sleep troubles may be created by the rules themselves, which people go to neurotic lengths to follow. My new book, Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World, uses history and literature to understand why that is.

When you can’t sleep the way you think you’re "supposed" to, here’s who to blame:

1. Blame stress. Stressing out about your sleep patterns is a sure way to worsen them. (You might call this “ironic insomnia.”) Remember that sleep patterns vary widely by age, genetic makeup, gender, and a host of other factors. Eight hours might be the right amount for some, but too much or too little for others. So do what you can to feel rested, and throw away that sleep tracker: It’s just making you obsess.

2. Blame history. What counts as “normal” sleep varies significantly over time and in different locations. Many cultures promote napping at midday, and only in the past few centuries did anyone really “time” their sleep by anything other than the rise and fall of the sun. Before the nineteenth century, most Europeans and North Americans apparently slept in two shifts at night, with an hour or so of contemplative wakefulness in between for prayer, sex, or dream interpretation. So our insistence on eight hours in a straight shot is a pretty recent invention, not something a body naturally “needs.”

3. Blame the weather. Throughout most of human history, sleep duration varied greatly by season. In regions far from the equator, some communities practically hibernated during the winter when food supplies were sparse and heat needed to be conserved. Today, we call drastic seasonal variations in energy level seasonal affective disorder, but once upon a time, such variations were a necessary measure for surviving the winter. If your time travel machine is in the shop, get out in the sunlight more often and let your body really experience the season.

4. Blame your parents. Contemporary Americans arguably spend more energy training children how to sleep properly than any other people in history. And the goals of that training are pretty strange. In most times and places, parents and children slept in close proximity, often even on the same surface, and bedtimes were not rigidly observed. In contrast, most experts in the U.S. promote the goal of getting children to sleep on their own through the night on a strict schedule. With so much fuss made over their sleep, is it any wonder that so many kids go on to develop psychological hang-ups about sleep as adults? (See item no. 1 on this list.)

5. Blame your kids. No explanation necessary.

6. Blame your bedmate. Maybe that person next to you is snoring or kicking. Or maybe they’re awake, playing with their phone, or they want to have sex with you. Given that your parents probably spent a lot of time and emotional energy teaching you to sleep on your own, how are you supposed to share a bed with someone else anyway? Maybe you need to gently explain to your partner that it’s enough to love someone while they’re awake. Because face it, it’s possible you’d do better in the guest room.

7. Blame your phone. Those screens we stare at all day – and often well into the night – can be an endless source of distraction, delaying bedtime. Making matters worse, the blue light that they emit suppresses release of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleepiness. This means that even after you switch off your screen, your brain takes a while to realize it needs to be switched off, too. Some e-readers cast a very gentle light, but in general, when it’s time to wind down, try reading a book, the kind with pages. (I can recommend one called Wild Nights.)

8. Blame your boss, even if you are the boss. Not to go all Bernie here, but that pesky capitalist work ethic doesn’t have a lot of respect for the body’s need to rest. Labor unions made getting enough rest an important part of their platform in the early part of the twentieth century. And some companies today are recognizing the importance of a well-rested workforce — Aetna, for instance, is paying employees extra if they can prove they’re getting seven or eight hours a night. But sleep shouldn’t be about making money, or improving someone else’s bottom line. Sleep is a right and a necessity. So maybe you need to quit your job, or join a picket line.

9. Blame globalization. Sleep might be hard for you but think about how that person who’s helping you fix a software glitch is sleeping. Is that really “Mike,” or does the accent tell you it’s someone in Delhi, up at 3 in the morning so you can get the bugs out of your presentation? Maybe it’s not your own sleep you should be worried about, but “Mike's.” What were you saying about not getting eight hours?

10. Blame sleep. OK, sleep’s important, we need it to process memories, to clean out neurotoxins from the brain, to bolster the immune system, aid in the healing process, and make us function better the next day. But it’s probably not going to be a huge disaster if you’re tired tomorrow, unless you’re a pilot or a nuclear plant worker. So if you're having trouble sleeping and there’s something more fun to do than tossing and turning, go do that thing. And stop worrying about it so much.

You can purchase your copy of Wild Nights by Benjamin Reiss here.

Source: Cosmopolitan.com