Just because you'd like more sleep doesn't mean you actually need it. Sleep expert, Professor Jim Horne, director of Loughborough University's Sleep Research Center, UK, says genes determine whether you feel fresh and alert during the day - not eight hours of shut-eye.
Compare today's sleeping patterns with 150 years ago, Horne says, a typical worker toiled for 14 hours a day, six days a week, then went home to an impoverished, cold, damp, noisy house and shared a bed not only with the rest of the family, but with bedbugs and fleas. "My assertion is that the vast majority of people sleep perfectly adequately. That's not to say sleep deprivation doesn't exist. But in general we've never had it so good."
Writing in the New Scientist, Jim Horne challenges many of the assumptions that we are a sleep deprived nation. This, he states, is "intellectually lazy", and simply creates anxiety and needless health concerns that lead to a greater demand for sleeping pills.
Over the past 40 years, repeated studies have shown that healthy adults sleep around seven hours a night. It is true that obesity, for example, has been linked to insomnia, but only in people who get less than five hours sleep a day.
Prof Horne also reacted to the idea that people are seen to catch up with sleep when on vacation or days off from work. "Just because we can easily sleep beyond our usual daily norm - the Saturday morning lie-in, the Sunday afternoon snooze - doesn't necessarily follow we really need the extra sleep. Why shouldn't we be able to sleep to excess, for indulgence? After all, we enthusiastically eat and drink well beyond our biological needs. Why shouldn't it be the same with sleep?"
Researchers at the University asked 11,000 people about their sleeping habits. Half complained they had too little sleep but when offered an extra hour to do whatever they wanted only a handful chose to sleep.
"Instead of worrying we're not getting enough sleep, we should acknowledge we're probably sleeping better than ever before, and rather than trying to increase our sleep, maybe spend those ‘extra' hours of wakefulness doing something more productive."
Published On: October 16, 2008