It’s World Sleep Day! And ironically, I have literally slept two hours today, finishing up this blog… So, I think it’s important that I step back and evaluate whether I meet my daily sleep requirements, and how can I work on getting more sleep, being a high-school student and soon-to-be undergrad. This post will be broken down into a series of questions because I think this format will help y’all get the most of this post.
How much sleep do I need?
I ask myself this question almost every day, and I still don’t have an answer…
The amount of sleep that one needs depends on many factors – internal factors like circadian rhythm, homeostatic processes, genes, and external factors like prior sleep history, exercise, illness etc. Consequently, it’s really hard to give a definitive answer, and that is why we struggle to answer this question. However, while it might seem all hope is lost, many psychologists and doctors have gathered and analyzed data and found that on average, adults should get 7-8 hours of sleep each day.
Again, this is just an average, so I think experimenting with numbers is helpful in finding the optimum amount of sleep that YOU need. For instance, I find that I’m fresh and well-rested when I get 8.5 hours of sleep, no more no less. Obviously, it’s not like I get those many hours of rest, but knowing this helps me plan what time I should sleep at night. A website that helps me with these calculations is sleepyti.me, which recommends at what time you should sleep in order to complete a full sleep cycle.
What are sleep cycles?
A sleep cycle is the five stages that our body undergoes while we sleep. The cycle lasts 90 minutes approximately. The first four stages are related to the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep, and the last stage is composed of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep. During NREM sleep, we move from light to deep sleep, but our muscles retain their ability to function. It is really hard to wake someone up when they are in the last stage (fourth stage) of NREM sleep. While in REM sleep, we dream. Our eyes also move rapidly during this stage, but the reason for this is unknown. Interestingly, at this stage, our muscles are completely paralyzed except for the essential organs like the heart and lungs.
Why do we need sleep?
The precise benefits of sleep still plague biologists and researchers. But, researchers have realized the importance of sleep through various experiments if not its benefits – while we sleep, our minds process, consolidate, and store memories, helping us retain information. Moreover, our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.
Let me leave you with an interesting fact: you could survive for three times as long without food as you could without sleep. Better not risk it!
Are naps useful?
A full sleep cycle (a 90-minute nap) helps in retaining information that you have just learned. However, if you are just tired and want a quick “power nap”, then 15 minutes will do you good!
What’s interesting is that many Indians often take an hour-long nap in the afternoons to “rejuvenate”. This sleep schedule (also known as biphasic sleep schedule) is also evident in the Mediterranean cultures, which is known for its mid-afternoon “siestas.” Interestingly, scientists have found that this type of sleep schedule may comply better with our circadian rhythms, which tend to experience a drop after lunch or around 2pm. (So, if you are tired after lunch, don’t blame it on the steak you had!) Some businesses (like Uber, not surprisingly Google, and Ben & Jerry’s) have even incorporated this into their work schedule and built nap centers for their employees.
For Uber, a company known for regulatory battles, we were tasked with creating a room built for maximum efficiency–a room so built for work that no one would need to leave. This included a living room space, a kitchenette, and, of course, small focus rooms that double as nap rooms.
How do animals sleep?
I thought I could write a really good response to this question, but this video sums it up so accurately that I might as well use it.
What is sleep pressure?
Sleep pressure is essential what we feel when we pull those all-nighters or sleep really late at night. It is that nauseous feeling where almost every emotion you feel is amplified, and while you are jittery one second, you are fatigue-ridden in the next. But like “dark matter,” this is a name for a phenomenon that we don’t completely yet. The Atlantic’s Why Do We Need Sleep metaphorically put it as
The more time you spend thinking about sleep pressure, the more it seems like a riddle game out of Tolkien: What builds up over the course of wakefulness, and disperses during sleep? Is it a timer? A molecule that accrues every day and needs to be flushed away? What is this metaphorical tally of hours, locked in some chamber of the brain, waiting to be wiped clean every night?