We all know about the health benefits of getting eight hours sleep, but it turns out that scientists disagree on how we should get those eight hours. A new article in the NY Times argues that less nighttime sleeping and more napping is more effective and better for our mental health.
Typically, mention of our ever increasing sleeplessness is followed by calls for earlier bedtimes and a longer night’s sleep. But this directive may be part of the problem.
Doctors who peddle sleep aid products and call for more sleep may unintentionally reinforce the idea that there is something wrong or off-kilter about interrupted sleep cycles. Sleep anxiety is a common result: we know we should be getting a good night’s rest but imagine we are doing something wrong if we awaken in the middle of the night. Related worries turn many of us into insomniacs and incite many to reach for sleeping pills or sleep aids, which reinforces a cycle that the Harvard psychologist Daniel M. Wegner has called “the ironic processes of mental control.”
The human body is annoying sometimes. I'm not an insomniac per se, but I'm the worst sleeper ever. Once I'm out, I'm out, but falling asleep originally is a huge challenge for me. If it's too hot, too cold, too bright, too noisy, too anything, I can't fall asleep. If that's not enough, when I lived in New York City, I turned on a fan at night to drown out the street noise, and now I'm unable to sleep without the hum of a Vortex fan. It's horrible. My brother, on the other hand, can fall asleep anywhere. He used to sleep in church, sitting upright. Everyone jokes about falling asleep in church, but he would actually do it. When I have a kid, I'm going to hire R. Lee Ermey to come over at bed time and scream at him as he falls asleep. "WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION, NUMBNUTS?! OH, YOU CAN'T FALL ASLEEP? CRY ME A RIVER YOU BABY!" That way he'll learn to sleep through adversity. It’s a valuable life skill, trust me.