What is lack of sleep and what is enough?

What is lack of sleep? And what is enough? Some say we need eight hours and others say we are individually different.  Some say that we need less as we get older but as I complete more and more cycles around the Sun, I find I need more – and there are plenty like me. Nine hours does me just fine. Others would feel groggy through oversleeping.

So is there an answer? Let’s look at lack of sleep first.

10 surprising signs of lack of sleep

1. You fall asleep immediately. Regularly falling asleep within minutes of lying down and indicate sleep deprivation.

2. Impulsive eating – especially sugary foods. A lack of sleep may be to blame. Less sleep leads to poorer judgment and acting impulsively. This can mean poor eating habits – doughnuts, biscuits – and it’s also a fact that when we are tired we can impulsively reach for sugar.

3. “Whatever!” You find it hard to express complex ideas – and might resort to cliches instead.

4. Memory blanking out. Sleep leads to memory consolidation – efficient sorting and filing of memories – and emotional processing. Starting to do something then forgetting about it is not uncommon – but more frequent with sleep deprivation.

5. You’re hungrier than usual.  Without a good night’s sleep, the hormone telling us to eat more increases, while the hormone that tells us to stop eating decreases.

6. You read a sentence twice to grasp it. An inability to concentrate is a sure sign that you’re not spending enough time with your eyes closed. Also you may not be able to make split-second decisions. And it may not be wise to try!

7. You’re clumsy. Some people seem to be naturally clumsy but skimping on sleep can also cause issues with motor skills, such as being unsteady on your feet and stumbling when carrying your things.

8. More arguments.  A 2013 U.C. Berkeley study found that couples have more frequent and serious fights when they don’t get enough sleep.

9. You’re ‘spacey’. Missing your exit while driving or doing things throughout the day with little memory of them later on: these are signs of lack of sleep.

10. You fall asleep whenever you can during daylight hours. The cinema, on a very short flight or train ride… 

(Findings by Shelby Freedman Harris, YouBeauty Sleep Expert and director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City)

Enough about lack of sleep.

What do the experts say about what is enough?

An article in the Huffington Post, titled ‘Stop Trying to Get Eight Hours’ Sleep’ points out that the eight hours figure is something of a cliche (my paraphrase). The author, Dr Christopher Winter, tells us how to work out how much we need. Among his comments are these:

  • If you wake before your alarm, it’s likely that it’s ‘you’ telling you that you’ve had enough sleep.
  • Notice how do you feel during the day. If you feel like falling asleep after lunch or when you sit down to read during your daytime, the chances are that you haven’t had enough sleep.

But there are a few complexities which we need to mention.

Our inner alarm clock

Firstly, when we set an alarm clock, we are also giving an instruction to our whole system about when we want to wake up. That includes our unconscious or subconscious mind. It’s an instruction that given in the very thought and action of setting the alarm and it’s powerful.

So it’s completely possible that we will wake up before the alarm goes off, whether we’ve had enough sleep or not.  In other words, we can wake before our alarm, but we may not have had enough sleep.

lack of sleep
Lack of sleep or power nap?

Power naps

Secondly, there are people whose natural bodily workings, such as their adrenal gland function which provides much of our alertness, do benefit from a nap after lunch. They feel energised by it – hence the name Power Nap – and are disempowered if they have to plough through the day without stopping.

It has a much more romantic name in Spain, and is something of an institution – Siesta! I know this is said to be tied in with recognising difficulties in working in the extreme heat of the day, but it also ties in with our personal body cycles and energy levels and what we are asking them to do.

In other words, some people benefit from a sleep during the day.

And again, there will be personal changes such as those responding to seasonal differences: we can need less sleep in the longer daylight hours in summertime, for example.

So we can’t generalise, but I think Dr Winter raised an essential question: how do you feel during the day? It’s for each of us to notice our sleep patterns and energy levels and how we feel, and not follow the cliche recommendations that fly around.

That way, we can also spot any changes in our patterns that don’t work for us and need putting right before they become a habit that is hard to change. We preserve our deserved rest, our peaceful nights and get more out of our days. Excellent.

Happy days! And peaceful nights….