The myth of the 8-hour sleep


58 Responses to “The myth of the 8-hour sleep”

  1. clarkie604 says:

    My wife is going to get a pleasant surprise in the middle of the night tonight.  I better warn her.

  2. MrsBug says:

    I wake up every night, but it’s usually because the cats are walking on my face.

    • suburbanhick says:

      I’ll often wake up because one of them is coughing up a hairball on the floor right beside my bed. Thanks guys!

      • MrsBug says:

         LOL. Nothing like the sound of ‘hcccckkkkk, hcccckkkkkkkk’ while you worry if they’re doing it over the silk shirt or new jeans you left on the floor.

        • Pirate Jenny says:

          Or, more likely for me, into one of the dozen or so pairs of shoes lying about. That’s worse, I assure you :P

          • suburbanhick says:

            One of the shoes if you’re lucky. The slippers you put on first thing in the morning (after forgetting about it overnight) if you’re not. Nasty!

  3. suburbanhick says:

    This is an amazing book. I read it when it came out, and highly recommend it to anyone trying to figure out why the hell they can’t sleep thru the night. Or anyone, really – it’s just a fascinating read.

    More importantly, it also freed me from the (societally-imposed) notion that an 8-hr sleep is the only way to go. Now I get up when I wake up (at 3 or 4am) and read, meditate, practise my guitar or whatever for half an hour or so, then go back to bed and sleep ’til 7-ish. It’s allowed me to actually wake up feeling refreshed instead of even MORE tired than when I went to bed!

  4. robdobbs says:

    In his book The Head Tip, Jeff Warren talks about this and about this. If I remember, he ties it into the ability to make light at all hours and heads up north to Hudson’s Bay to live for a while without electricity. He writes about how eventually he’d go to bed shortly after sunset, which I think is about 4 or 5pm and then awakens at around 10p to 2a. Exactly what they describe here. 

    Apparently if you just don’t turn on any lights brighter than a candle, you should be able to fall asleep again in about an hour. If you turn on a light though, you begin a cascade of chemicals in your body, tricking it into thinking it’s morning and time to get up. Then you’re hooped. 

    Here’s a link to his book:

  5. mtdna says:

    Chimpanzees average about 8 hours of sleep but wake up 3-5 times during the night, for about 20 minutes each time.

  6. xzzy says:

    Unfortunately, I can barely squeeze in 8 hours of sleep per day. It’s frequently closer to 7. Adding in 2 hours of idle time in the middle of the night simply isn’t an option.. 9 to 5 job and a zillion hobbies mean I cling to every free minute I can get my  hands on.

    I don’t even know what I’d do with those two hours. It’s not enough time to dig into any serious projects, and too much time to piss it away sitting around idling.I think the reasonable solution is to slow down the earth’s rotation so I can get a 30 hour day, making 10 hours devoted to recuperation perfectly reasonable.

  7. namnezia says:

    Sounds more like: Get home from work, have a snack and take a nap. Wake from nap ~11pm, make some dinner, chill for a bit, go to bed again. Wake around 6. I do that all the time, except for the nap part.

  8. esquire says:

    All I know is that I’ve got a four-week-old and if someone’s trying to tell me there’s something better than sleeping eight hours in a row, I say “F that noise.”

    • IronEdithKidd says:

      If you’re mom, it could be a very long time before you get 8 hours uninterrupted.  Oh, but that first night you get a mere 6 hours uninterrupted is going to feel like manna. 

      • ChicagoD says:

        Unless you have the experience we did, which was waking up, realizing how long you’d slept and thinking something was wrong with the baby. First time parents, of course . . .

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        If you’re mom, it could be a very long time before you get 8 hours uninterrupted.

        Pro-tip: Have a fat baby.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      That’s part of the premise of the article. The baby is acting normal.  It’s the adults that are trying to maintain an unnatural schedule.

  9. franko says:

    so, does that mean that those of us who can sleep 8 hours at a stretch, and really enjoy it, are we MORE evolved — or less? : )

  10. retepslluerb says:

    Sleep, huh?  People still do that?

  11. Does anyone else find that they sleep more comfortably when their head is oriented a certain direction? I swear I sleep better when my head is lying at the West end of a room, with my feet going eastward, to greet the rising dawn. Something about “feeling” the centrifugal force of a turning planet? Maybe I’m just weird.

    • Mr. Son says:

       I find I have to sleep in certain orientations to feel comfortable, but for me it’s more my OCD or my autism latching onto a space and saying “You must be THIS WAY or we will nag you so hard you’ll never get to sleep!”

    • theophrastvs says:

       (“He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates 2 dimensional thinking.” –Spock)  …definitely, head-downwards, that way the Van-Allen belt can’t find you.

    • snowmentality says:

       I definitely sleep better when my room catches more early morning light, but it doesn’t matter which direction my body is actually pointing.

  12. Al Billings says:

    Heck, I wake up 3-5 times a night anyway.

  13. dnebdal says:

    Oh, I so wish I could manage 8 hours per night – 8 hours and a break in the middle sounds even better. 

  14. Deidzoeb says:

    As long as you’re not suggesting 4 hours sleep total is all that is needed, I’ll allow it. YMMV.

  15. quickgold1928 says:

    Yeah, I heard this a while ago (on, of all places). Turns out that the way people *used* to do something isn’t necessarily the healthiest. Although the article does cite a few doctors who agree with segmented sleeping, it admits that they are the minority. Before jumping on the bandwagon, lets let scientists do a little more hard research on the topic.

    • ChicagoD says:


    • Wreckrob8 says:

      Shouldn’t that be used to do ‘everything’? It seems not unreasonable to suggest some things we do better now and some worse. As for sleep patterns I think variability among individuals and at different times and places is natural. I lived in Seville for three years and found it natural to take a siesta, not eat dinner till after midnight and sleep only four or five hours from early to mid morning. I feel no need to do that here in London now.

    • redjon says:

      Right!  Humans used to have a 40-year lifespan and not have the benefits of sanitation or medical or dental care.  The good old days weren’t necessarily all that good.

  16. Aaron Geiger says:

    Two notes: 1) I have a child that wakes up at least twice a night, sometimes as much as six. There are many nights where I’ve been forced to break up my sleep in two or more chunks, and have a perfectly normal day the next day, as long as I do get some sleep. 2) While serving in the Navy, it was also perfectly normal to have a four hour siesta, then go on “watch” for two to four hours, then get another chunk of sleep. This went on for weeks and months at a time. 

  17. anise says:

    thank you for this. i feel normal now. 

  18. bcsizemo says:

    Maybe I’m the abnormal one.  I get in bed, 1-2 minutes later I’m asleep.  If there is no alarm set I usually wake up 9-10 hours later.  That’s been pretty much standard for me since I was little.  I feel truly refreshed when I get those 9-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  I feel alright with 7 or 8.

  19. I need at least 8 1/2 hours sleep a night or I feel dreadful.  Low-powered pineal gland, I guess.

    Luckily, once I’m off, I’m off.  But if I do wake up in the night, it’s like I got no sleep at all.  So, if there is anything to this theory, you couldn’t tell it by me.

  20. avicia says:

     once I got to 3-4 hours at a time it allowed for deep sleep and I was a human. 1-2 hour chunks were not enough.

  21. UniAce says:

    Anecdote firehose bonanza!  Don’t we have any relevant science?

      • suburbanhick says:

        I remember reading about an experiment years ago wherein the subjects lived deep underground for some time, with no reference to daylight and no clock. The electric lights were controlled by the subjects, as and when they felt the need for light. It turned out that the subjects’ periods of sleep would, after a while, get longer and longer until they were sleeping upward of (if I remember correctly) 16-18 hours at a stretch.

        • Donald Petersen says:

          Wow.  The morning breath must have been deadly.  And I find it difficult to imagine the bladder that could let one sleep so long without discomfort or unconscious release.

          • Jerril says:

            If you’re sleeping, you’re not drinking. Which means you’re slowly dehydrating… which definitely cuts down on your need for peeing. Of course you don’t have to be asleep to control the need to pee this way. I know at two different OCD people who manage their water intake carefully so they don’t have to use a strange bathroom.

  22. The author Jerzy Kosinski was a prponent of this method, and lived by it.

  23. Ideally, I would like to be on the Uberman Cycle:

  24. hadlockk says:

    Prior to about 1920 drinking patterns were dramatically different. Water sanitation, etc. If you drink half a bottle of wine before bed, don’t be surprised if you wake up halfway through the night as it starts to filter out of your system. It’s well documented that alcoholism causes sleep disruptions.

  25. grantwentzel says:

    Colin Beavan talks about this in his book “No Impact Man”, but seems to think it’s for the long-nighted winter months only.

  26. NatWu says:

    I have actually heard of a tribe of South American Indians who do something similar. Unfortunately, I forget what book that was in. If I get woken up at 4 hours, I’ll feel like crap even if I get back to sleep a couple of hours later. A solid 7 and I’m good. But of course, that’s anecdotal, so not worth much.

    I do think, though, that if most people wanted to do a 4-break-4 sleep pattern, nobody’s making them try to sleep 8 hours. You’d think plenty of people would have figured this out if they wanted to.

  27. bolamig says:

    Drinking or pot tend to cause exactly this 4+4 sleep pattern.  There was a lot of intoxicant use back before we “knew better”.

  28. Nylund says:

    Personally, I go to bed and sleep soundly and continuously for 7.5 hours then wake up like clockwork.  I don’t use an alarm except for late nights where I have to get up in less than 7.5 hours.

    I could only sleep in two smaller shifts with artificial means (like an alarm).  Although, I could imagine a world without artificial lighting where early darkness (say in winter) caused me to go to bed earlier than I wanted to and that might indeed change my sleeping pattern.

  29. yosemite says:

    Alternatively, you can just give up some of your “zillion” hobbies.

    er, this was intended to be reply @xzzy above

  30. MetalPorkchop says:

    There was some research years ago which said that sleeping in 3 hour increments was best.   I usually sleep about 9 hours in winter, and 6-7 in summer.  I used to manage on 3 hrs a night back in university, and that worked for me then.  Sleeping too much sometimes makes me tired.  My guess is that sleep is probably person specific, there can’t be the same rule working for everyone.

  31. ArghMonkey says:

    Awesome, I read this awhile ago and havent been able to find it since. thanks!

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