A Surprising Revelation
People often react with surprise when I tell them how much I sleep.
They wonder how I find time for everything in my life while still sleeping as much as I do.
And they also know that I can often be found awake at any hour of the day or night.
So how much do I sleep? The “surprising” answer: an average of 7-8 hours a day.
Matching Your Life’s Rhythms
Modern life often requires us to stay up late, whether because of major deadlines or because of major partying.
And forcing yourself to go to bed at the same time every night requires a level of regimentation that few of us are prepared to put up with.
That kind of strictness also fails to take into account the varying energy expenditures of each day. Some days we push ourselves harder, and so we need more rest. Other days we take it easy, and so we need less rest.
Trying to go to bed when you’re not ready to do so will only result in you lying awake for an hour or more, unable to get to sleep. And forcing yourself to stay awake after your mind and body have had enough will compromise the quality of your mental and physical performance.
Neither of these situations is ideal.
Instead, we need to become more aware and respectful of the unique rhythms of our individual lives, and then match our sleep patterns to those rhythms.
Measuring by Weeks
When I said that I slept for an average of 7–8 hours a day, the key word in that statement was “average”.
I think in terms of total sleep per week, not total sleep per day. Based on an average of 7–8 hours of sleep per day, that amounts to 49–56 hours of sleep per week.
I first started tracking my sleep five years ago, and one pattern has become very clear: I function best when I’m getting a weekly average of 7 hours and 45 minutes of sleep in each 24-hour period. But it doesn’t seem to matter how I get that sleep.
So some days I’ll sleep more, and some days I’ll sleep less. Some days I’ll take more than one session of core sleep, meaning that I’ll sleep in multiple blocks of several hours each. Other days I’ll take frequent naps. Whatever I need for optimum performance.
And as long as my weekly total falls within my stipulated range, I’m fine.
Why Not Sleep Less?
Many people consider 7-8 hours of sleep to be too much. You’re sleeping a third of your life away! they cry.
And so proponents of polyphasic sleep (a system of napping for short periods throughout the day) try to function on as little sleep as they can. Others will limit their sleep to whatever they think they can get away with.
Over the years I’ve met several people who say that they take no more than 4 hours of sleep per night. They say that’s all they need in order to do their work well.
But they all had something else in common too: every one of them was highly neurotic.
Looking back, it’s clear to me that they were all suffering from the long-term effects of insufficient sleep — and they didn’t even know it.
The Hidden Price of Sleeplessness
It’s true that we humans can endure long periods of sleep deprivation with little lasting effect. Any experienced mother can tell you this.
But there’s a hidden price to chronic sleeplessness. Once you start looking at life from a truly balanced perspective, the following issues with insufficient sleep become painfully clear:
- Recovery from muscle soreness takes longer.
- Overall sensory alertness is compromised.
- Sexual performance suffers.
- Willpower drops significantly.
- It becomes harder to focus intensely for long periods. This makes it more difficult to carry out complex tasks, and also makes flow states harder to achieve.
- Stress tolerance drops sharply, making it harder to act effectively in difficult situations.
- Procrastination increases dramatically.
- Work speed and efficiency slow down.
- Emotions become more extreme and volatile.
- Decisions tend to become impulsive and emotion-driven instead of considered and rational.
- You’re much more likely to lose focus and fall asleep when meditating.
It’s Not Worth the Price
Looked at holistically, the tradeoffs of sleep deprivation simply aren’t worth the extra hours gained by sleeping less. Instead, sleep deprivation will only make your life less pleasurable and less whole.
Conversely, making sleep a priority will force you to become significantly more effective and efficient in the way you spend your time.
So consider doing whatever you can to get all the sleep you need. After all, the true measure of a well-spent life isn’t how many hours you can stay awake each day; instead, it’s how richly and fully you can use those hours to do whatever matters to you.