Episode 113 - 8 Hours a Day...
The Thursday Thesis - 23/08/2018
For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in sleep.
Sleep fascinates me.
More accurately I’ve been interested in doing without sleep for most of my adult life. As a kid I tried to stay awake all night - night after night – in the hope that I’d be able somehow to forget to sleep once I’d established the habit. I reasoned that if I could eliminate sleep from my routine I’d have more time to read and learn, then I’d eventually know everything and life would be better.
It’s funny what you believe as a kid, isn’t it?
But, to a certain extent I still have the idea in my tiny, pea-sized brain, and I still have a load of unanswered questions about sleep:
Today I’m just going to stick to question 11 – “Who says we should sleep for 8 hours a day?”
Well, first of all, my mum did.
But I wasn’t going to take it at face value, so for years I experimented with sleep patterns of varying lengths whilst I worked shifts at a busy casino in Birmingham. Some days I’d get a long eight hour-ish sleep, and sometimes I’d only sleep 3 or 4 hours between 14 hour double shifts, bookended by my 20 miles there, twenty miles back cycle ride into the city.
Ever since then I’ve slept only 5 hours a night, and I’m not alone in this – several of my friends are short-sleepers, too. Medicine would probably tell us to try to get 8 hours...
Why 8 Hours?
It seems to have evolved since the 17th century, when street-lamps were installed in Paris, Amsterdam, and London.
With the coming of streetlights, being abroad at night became less dangerous, and mentions of the traditional/natural two-phase sleep pattern began to fade from contemporary literature and documents.
Humans were – until that time – accustomed to a two-part, or “biphasic” sleep pattern, with a “First Sleep” of around four hours, a period of two or three hours of wakefulness, then a “Second Sleep” lasting another four hours or so. This appears to be the natural way we sleep, according to psychiatrist Thomas Wehr.
Wehr observed a group of volunteers subjected to 14 hours per day of darkness. Within a few weeks, the group adopted the two-sleep routine without any prior knowledge of it, suggesting that this pattern is a biological norm when artificial light is absent.
But that’s still eight hours of sleep every day, which seems to be a lot.
Eight hours kip is a third of my life, and I’ve got better things to do with my time than have strange dreams, snore and suspend breathing for long periods of time before violently sucking in air like a man surfacing from a deep lake.
So now I sleep between 3 and 4 hours a night, but take one or two naps of 8-10 minutes each during the day, multiple-sleep pattern is known as “polyphasic sleep”. This means that my total time spent sleeping every day is only 4.5 hours per day, saving me 3.5 hours per day compared to the monophasic 8-hour model.
So, 7 days a week I have an extra 3.5 hours of awake time: that’s 24.5 hours more awake time, every week – an eight-day week!
Is this good?
Maybe... I get a lot done, but there are downsides, too: society isn’t geared-up for oddballs with unconventional sleeping habits, and no sane woman is going to put up with my crazy nocturnal habits.
Now, if I could just eliminate the residual sleep I do need, I’d have time to think up a solution to that problem...
It’s just a thought, but everything begins with a single thought...
© Neil Cowmeadow 2018
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