With the sun going to bed earlier and earlier in these last days of fall, I decide to join my friend and do the same. Here we go with my new life hack: sleep.
Living almost constantly in FOMO, taking some time off to rest at night is an everyday struggle for me. There is always something more interesting to do than going to bed, and another fun thing to do early in the morning.
So I confess myself: I am the first one to cut on sleeping. And it took me a lot of time to realize that I was missing out on something by doing so. But since I did (actually, it happens only a few days ago), there is no way I am going to cut again on that precious resting time. And it seems like I’m not the only one realizing how important sleep is these days. Arianna Huffington, an “all-out sleep evangelist” as she calls herself after her famous collapse caused by sleep deprivation, is predicting a sleep revolution in 2016.
“What we need is nothing short of a sleep revolution. And the good news is, there is evidence all around us that this revolution is actually in its early stages, with the potential to reach new heights in 2016. In every industry and sector of society — in business, in schools, in medicine, in sports, in the arts — more and more people are recognizing the importance of sleep.” – Arianna Huffington, A Sleep Revolution Will Allow Us to Better Solve the World’s Problems
Do we really need eight hours of sleep?
We are indeed in a sleep deprived society, with up to 40% of the population getting less than six hours of sleep per night. But is the famous recommandation to get the perfect 8-hour sleep still right? This idea is based on studies where scientists found out about the four stages of sleep we get into where we sleep, and the fact that each full sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes to complete. So we basically get five cycles of sleep per night, if we get our 8 hours of sleep. (Are you still with me here with all that math?) Within each cycle, the length of the stages will vary, and we get deeper sleep earlier in the night and dream more by the end of it.
That’s why we often say that we need a full eight-hour night to feel rested. However, does it have to be eight continuous hours? History tells us we might have been wrong all along.
Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech revealed in a seminal paper published in 2001 that surprisingly, we used to sleep in two distinctive chunks. In 2005, he shared with us more than 500 references to back this fact in his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.
Before the late 17th century, people would get to be about two hours after dusk, to wake up during the night for one to two hours, and would then fall asleep again. Our ancestors used that time to relax, read, write, pray, smoke or even visit their neighbors. It was also a great time to have sex, as a doctor’s manual from the 16th century revealed, telling couples that this first sleep would help them conceive, as they would “have more enjoyment” and “do it better”. Love that idea.
Then the light came, and the night became a great time to hang out, while before only criminals, prostitutes and drunks would stay out when the sun was fading away.
“Night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time.” – Stephanie Hegarty, The myth of the eight-hour sleep
With the raise of the industrial era and the development of a time-conscious and productive society, sleeping in two chunks was not considered efficient enough. By the 1920s, nobody was talking about a first and a second sleep anymore.
These days, some people are playing again with the idea that we wouldn’t need 8 hour straight. I am still very attached to the idea of a long night of sleep, but I agree that it might not be the most efficient way to get rested. However, the stress related to the idea of having to time and schedule my sleep might even make me more anxious and therefore, unable to sleep. So I will leave that to others.
Use your time wisely: sleep
No matter how we choose to get it, sleep is still a very important component of overall health and wellness. These days, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on eating well and exercising, even sometimes at the expense of sleep.
You might want to think about it twice however next time you’re planning to cut down on sleep to exercise more. If you are looking to stay healthy and fit, sleeping less might even have the counter-effect of making you gain weight. Our bodies are definitely smarter than we think. If we deprive our body from getting some rest and recovering, we will eventually find ourselves looking for that energy somewhere else: in your fridge.
The message here is very simple: we have to let our body do the work. Our job is to go to bed and let the magic happens. As we are sleeping, our body regulates our appetite hormones, our insulin levels, repairs our bones and our muscles, and our brain reforms the pathways for memory and learning, reduces fears, repairs and grows brain cells and even flushes the waste. Sleep is so great that it even has become the new secret weapon for athletes. You do not want to miss on any of that right?
Keep dreaming on
This is where it gets even more fun. Sleep is not only great for your body and brain, it is also very entertaining. As you get deeper and deeper into your sleep, it’s as if your brain starts having a life on its own. I love that moment where I let go, but I’m still conscious. I simply let my mind show me the way, taking me in some interesting places. I do not have to take any decision, I basically watch the TV show that my brain has created especially for me, with the people I love. It’s a lot better than any reality show, believe me. Some people even become lucid dreamers to get more benefits from their sleep.
I am also a fan of Sigmund Freud, which is known as the father of psychanalysis. Freud worked on understanding our human mind, and developed the concept of the id, the superego and the unconscious mind, our id representing our instincts, our ego our identity in reality, and our superego our morality.
“The ego’s goal is to satisfy the demands of the id in a safe a socially acceptable way.” – Saul McLeod, Sigmund Freud
Freud revolutionized the studies of the dreams, with the idea that as we were asleep, we could get a better grasp on our id and our unconscious mind. If throughout the day the superego was able to restrain the instincts of the id, at night the guard was left down, and our id as well as our unconscious mind could finally express themselves. The interpretation of dreams are therefore a way for us to understand better ourselves and our reactions to events and life in general. He was however very cautious when it came to interpreting dreams in a universal way, and wasn’t fond of dream “dictionaries”. For him, the sense given to the dream by the dreamer was much more important than the dream itself, and only the dreamer can find out about the meaning of his dream, with some help in some cases.
Freud was not the first one to put emphasis on the power of the interpretation of dreams. For example, Chinese have also been very fond of dream interpretations, as some dream analysts are mentioned in Chinese court report going back to second millennium B.C. The Natives also have a very strong dream culture, as they believe dreams can be seen as a guidance in life and a way to find more awareness.
I also believe in the power of our dreams, as I do think they can tell us a lot about ourselves, and help develop our intuitive skills. I am in general pro to anything that can help us create that special connection between our embodied experience and our spiritual one, and dreaming is a great way to get more aware of that connection.
Goodnight, baby girl.