It is constantly drilled into our heads that as adults we need to get at least 7 to 8 hours of consecutive sleep a night and when we wake up for any length of time during our sleep we get frustrated, disappointed, and sometimes flat out agitated.
Even the national sleep foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep.
“The NSF has committed to regularly reviewing and providing scientifically rigorous recommendations,” says Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, Chair of the National Sleep Foundation Scientific Advisory Council. “The public can be confident that these recommendations represent the best guidance for sleep duration and health.”
National Sleep Foundations Recommendations
The panel revised the recommended sleep ranges for all six children and teen age groups. A summary of the new recommendations includes:
- Newborns (0-3 months ): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years):
- Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
When you have a chronic illness or chronic pain sleep can be an issue all around as pain can keep you staring at the walls for hours and lack of sleep can make our symptoms to become more pronounced. There is no debate that lack of sleep does affect us but when and how we get the sleep may not be as much of an issue as we once believed. Maybe trying to force yourself back to sleep at 3 AM is not your sleep cycle and you are causing more stress worrying about it than needed. Did you know it is completely naturally to wake up in the middle of the night and stay up for a few hours? More than one-third of American adults wake up in the middle of the night on a regular basis. It is called Nocturnal awakenings! Of those who experience “nocturnal awakenings,” nearly half are unable to fall back asleep right away. Doctors frequently diagnose this condition as a sleep disorder called “middle-of-the-night insomnia,” and prescribe very powerful and sometimes addictive medication to treat it.
Mounting evidence suggests, however, that nocturnal awakenings aren’t abnormal at all; they are the natural rhythm that your body gravitates toward. According to historians and psychiatrists alike, it is the compressed, continuous eight-hour sleep routine to which everyone aspires today that is unprecedented in human history. We’ve been sleeping all wrong lately so if you have “insomnia,” you may actually be doing things right.
“The dominant pattern of sleep, arguably since time immemorial, was biphasic,” Roger Ekirch, a sleep historian at Virginia Tech University and author of “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past” (Norton 2005), told Life’s Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.com “Humans slept in two four-hour blocks, which were separated by a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night lasting an hour or more. During this time some might stay in bed, pray, think about their dreams, or talk, or have sex with their spouses. Others might get up and do tasks or even visit neighbors before going back to sleep.”
References to “first sleep” or “deep sleep” and “second sleep” or “morning sleep” abound in legal depositions, literature and other archival documents from pre-Industrial European times. Gradually, though, during the 19th century, “language changed and references to segmented sleep fell away,” said Ekirch. “Now people call it insomnia.”
You can blame the shift in your sleeping habits on Thomas Edison’s lightbulb and the Industrial Revolution.
Ekirch explained that in the past, and especially during winter, darkness spanned up to 14 hours each night. Except for those affluent enough to burn candles for hours, folks were left with little to do but go to bed early, and this gave a great deal of flexibility to their nightly sleep requirements. Segmented or biphasic sleep patterns evolved to fill the long stretch of nighttime, and as observed by anthropologists, segmented sleep continues to be the norm for many people in undeveloped parts of the world, such as the Tiv group in Central Nigeria.
In places with electricity, though, artificial lighting has prolonged our experience of daylight, allowing us to be productive for longer. At the same time, it has cut nighttime short, and so to get enough sleep we now have to do it all in one go. Now, “normal” sleep requires forgoing the periods of wakefulness that used to break up the night; we simply don’t have time for a midnight chat with the neighbor any longer. “But people with particularly strong circadian rhythms continue to wake up in the night,” said Ekirch.
Wehr concluded that biphasic sleeping is the most natural sleep pattern, and is actually beneficial, rather than a form of insomnia. He also inferred that modern humans are chronically sleep deprived, which may be why we usually take only 15 minutes to fall asleep, and why we try our best not to wake up in the night.
In other words, if you wake up in the night, don’t worry about it. “Waking up after a couple of hours may not be insomnia,” wrote Wehr. “It may be normal sleep.” Ekirch added, “If people don’t fight it, they’ll find themselves falling asleep again after roughly one hour.”
When I went off my sleep medication a few years ago I started waking up about 3 to 4AM and staying up for about two hours before falling back asleep. I was very hard on myself for not sleeping like I had prior to sleep medications not knowing that it is completely natural to wake up at this time of night and remain up for a while.
So in conclusion, if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep for an hour or two don’t be so hard on yourself. It is completely natural! Taking short naps during the day has also been proven to be beneficial to ones health. The sheer luxury of escaping for a nap can be a great stress-reliever, even if you don’t sleep for long (and as long as you don’t let the stigma against napping get to you). Many studies suggest “a mini vacation” or siesta are very beneficial. And don’t stress if you can’t actually doze off in 10 minutes: A 2007 study found that asleep or not, a short period spent resting in bed is just as relaxing.
Some information and research for this article was taken from Livescience.com