Why More Sleep Isn’t Always Better
The proper amount of sleep seems to be in debate constantly these days. Is seven hours too few? Is nine hours too many? Do you really have to hit the eight-hour mark on the dot to feel like your best self? We overthink it so much that we end up struggling to fall asleep in the first place.
So instead of panicking about your total hours and what that number is supposed to represent, let’s break it down a little bit. And by that, we mean focus on each individual sleep cycle.
The human sleep cycle naturally lasts approximately 90 minutes. It includes three stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, all of which provide different functions for the body and brain, and it ends with a single stage of REM sleep where your body truly relaxes and your brain reenergizes.
Most of us know how crappy it feels when our alarm clocks startle us awake in the middle of this cycle rather than catching us at the tail end of the process. We feel groggy, slow and unproductive for a fair amount of the day. Well, pressing the snooze button, rolling over to catch more Z’s or simply sleeping in on the weekend can lead to similar feelings of lethargy when what you’re really aiming for is a renewed sense of energy. That’s because these habits don’t allow your body to complete a full sleep cycle. Each one cuts you off somewhere in the middle, confusing the hell out of your body and your brain.
The trick to feeling truly rested isn’t in sleeping that much more. Instead, it’s about monitoring your sleep cycles. For instance, if you go to bed at 11 p.m., sleep solidly throughout the night and wake up at 5 a.m., you’ll likely feel loads better than if you went to bed at 10 p.m., woke up several times throughout the night and finally got out of bed at 7:30 a.m. That initial 6-hour sleep window may be on the short end, but it provides for four perfectly timed sleep cycles. The latter, longer window compromises on sleep quality and creates room for 6.3 sleep cycles, meaning you’ll probably awake in the middle of that seventh one feeling out of sorts.
Depending on your schedule, lifestyle and personal needs, focus on completing four to six sleep cycles each night rather than logging a set number of hours. And if your body wakes up before that alarm goes off because it completed its last sleep cycle, take the cue and get up early. Your energy levels will fare much better for it.