Current human sleep patterns are obsolete, inefficient, and a risk to human mental and physical health. In societies of excess, such as in America, oversleeping has a direct influence to the quality and length of human life. Doctor Daniel Kripke, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, who specializes in sleep research, points to the fact that too much sleep could be harmful. "People who sleep especially more than seven or eight hours, do have a higher mortality," argues Kripke.
However, it is an undisputable fact that sleep is indispensable for humans. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sleep as the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored. This is the period where the body relieves tension and produces melatonin, which is an essential hormone found in living organisms. Melatonin plays many vital roles in humans, ranging from being a powerful antioxidant to boosting the immune system.
The issue in fact is not a dispute over the necessity of sleep, but rather, how much sleep is the right amount of sleep. We spend an average of one-third of our lives sleeping, according to researchers at Harvard University. This makes sleeping one of human's main activities; but, despite this fact, based on the amount of research done in comparison to other activities, it does not captivate much interest amongst societies.
We carry out sleep based on what feels right, rather than what it's truly healthy. Even religion, which usually is one of the main guides and mentors of human behavior, has very little to say regarding sleep. For example, in the Bible, there are clear rules regarding overindulgences, such as eating, drinking, and sexual activities, yet it does not make any references to the role of sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation and a great majority of physicians recommend that humans engage in eight hours of sleep per 24-hour period. This recommendation, in my opinion, is irresponsible, based on the fact that there is not nearly enough research regarding sleep patterns to come to such a specific conclusion.
Furthermore, evidence such as that provided by a sleep study conducted at UCSD by Dr. Kripke proves in fact that eight hours of sleep are not ideal. The six-year study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, included 1.1 million men and women and found survival rates decline progressively among those who slept eight hours or longer. It is an obvious necessity that we alter our sleep habits for the better, but before doing so, we must seek out the root of such an unproductive and damaging pattern.
The history of sleep is one that has not been recorded very well. Early in civilization when humans where completely dependent on the sun for their light needs, nightfall became a dangerous and nearly impossible condition to work under; at the same time, precious sunlight was imperative to survival and needed to be used and maximized to its fullest extent; thus, creating the need to adapt a sleeping pattern that would thrive under these circumstances. However, with the mastery of fire, and eventually electricity, the need to sleep non-stop throughout the night became obviously obsolete; but, even so, night sleeping is continually practiced to this present day.
One of the most natural sleep patterns could be seen in young infants who take interval naps instinctively throughout the day and night. Staying awake and/or sleeping for multiple hours is an abnormal learned behavior for humans. A human infant sleeps an average of 16 out of 24 hours per day before they learn to modify their sleep tendencies according to researchers at the Ohio State University. Curiously enough, sixteen hours is the same amount of time that giant tortoises sleep through adulthood. Their sleep patterns may be a direct influence on these tortoises' 170+ years' average lifespan.
Based on the information provided by the University of Washington, the conclusion can be made that animals that sleep many consecutive hours uninterruptedly tend to have shorter lifespans, compared to animals that sleep the same amount of hours but divide them into many intervals throughout a 24 hour period.
Sleep divided into napping intervals throughout the day and night is also known as polyphasic sleep, which is a pattern intended to reduce sleep time to 25 hours daily by spreading out sleep into short naps of around 2045 minutes throughout the day.
The military and NASA have been substantially interested in polyphasic sleep due to the obvious reasons of necessity; however, some of our greatest minds have also adopted such irregular sleep patterns. People such as Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Bruce Lee, Thomas Jefferson, and many others, were known to practice some form of polyphasic sleep. Actually, the inventor Thomas Edison went as far as saying "sleep is an acquired habit. Cells don't sleep. Fish swim in the water all night. Even a horse doesn't sleep. A man doesn't need any sleep." This may be a bit of a drastic statement, but it sure raises some good points.
In his book "Why We Nap, Evolution, Chronobiology, and Functions of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep", Claudio Stampi points out that analysis of polyphasic sleepers' memory retention and analytical ability show increases as compared with monophasic and biphasic sleep. Stampi hypothesizes that the improvement is due to an evolutionary predisposition to adopt such a sleep schedule; and a possible reason is that polyphasic was the preferred sleep schedule of human ancestors for thousands of years before monophasic. This means that sleeping polyphasically is in fact the most natural way for humans to sleep.
The Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists, which studies sleep patterns from a technological perspective, states that there are more than 80 documented sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and various disruptive behaviors in sleep. From my point of view, within that statistic is where the disorder lies. Eighty different types of sleep disorders is not only a number that is disproportionate, but also silly and absurd; however, this is common knowledge amongst physicians, psychiatrists, and the medical population in general.
Each one of these categorized disorders carries with them some sort of medication which most likely will involve a colorful pill that will help the ailing person to sleep, sleep, and sleep some more; and simultaneously, the pharmaceutical companies' stock to rise, rise, and rise some even more. "They think that scaring people about sleep increases their income," said Dr. Kripke regarding the drug industry in an interview with LiveScience.com. It is simply unfortunate that the fear of not getting enough sleep is keeping people up at night.
The number of adults aged 20-44 using sleeping pills doubled from 2000 to 2004, according to Medco Health Solutions, a managed care company, and global sales for all sleeping pills, called hypnotics, will top $5 billion in the next several years. In my opinion, people are sleeping through these facts and paying big bucks in consequences.
Based on the facts gathered here, it is not all a big conspiracy to keep people buying the highly addictive sleeping pills, but it is more about the lack of understanding of the role of sleep by the general public. Nearly half of Americans say they don't get enough sleep according to an NBC Today show/Zogby International poll. The fact is that if people did not know that overeating was unhealthy, half of Americans would say that they're not getting enough food. The point is that people sleep as much as they do because it feels good, not because they need it.
Imagine what America would be like if we worked under a polyphasic sleep. Being able to redefine the concept of time to fit a polyphasic style would mean more wake hours, which would mean more productivity or more leisure time. It would mean that instead of sleeping through one third of our already short lives, we would actually live more.
There needs not to be a scientific study to explain that when a person takes a good twenty minute nap they wake up refreshed and energetic. At the same time, sometimes, getting a long ten hour sleep means nothing because the person still wakes up groggy and tired. How could this be possible? It happens because it's not the amount of sleep; rather, it's the quality and the timing of that sleep that rejuvenates a person.
Writer/Researcher Steve Pavlina, whose website StevePavlina.com, receives over 2,000,000 page views per month and has been recognized as authoring one of the top 500 blogs in the world, has experimented with Polyphasic sleep and kept a very thorough and detailed journal. "The #1 reason I decided to call it [polyphasic sleeping] quits is simply that the rest of the world is monophasic. If most of the world was polyphasic, I probably would have stuck with it. Obviously when you go polyphasic, you fall out of sync with the way other people live," said Pavlina as he return to his monophasic sleep schedule.
This proves that the world is not ready to give up the pleasures of monophasic sleep for a healthier and more nurturing sleep pattern. More research needs to be done in order to conclusively understand not only the right amount of sleep humans need, but how that sleep comes about.
One conclusion we can arrive to from the information within these pages is that sleep unawareness might be the number one cause of death in humans and people need to wake up!