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Surprising Science

Rethinking the 8-Hour Sleep Imperative, or Why You Should Take Naps

The idea of getting eight hours sleep at night is a modern invention, one that is ironically no longer sustainable because of technological advances. But a better schedule is possible...

What’s the Latest Development?

A restful night that includes eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is now more of a fallacy than ever before, partially because technology has demanded we attend to work, family and friends at all hours of the day. “[R]oughly 41 million people in the United States—nearly a third of all working adults—get six hours or fewer of sleep a night, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” But our own rigidity with respect to sleep patterns may be causing us harm, too, as we demand our bodies conform to the eight-hour regimen rather than observing more natural rhythms. 

What’s the Big Idea?

In the 1990s, researchers discovered that once people stopped living with artificial light, they tended to drift into a new (or perhaps very old) sleeping pattern, which allowed for several shorter sleeping periods throughout the day. In modern parlance, that could mean something like naps. In the end, what is important is the profundity of sleep, not its duration: “[A]ny deep sleep—whether in an eight-hour block or a 30-minute nap—primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identify patterns faster and recall information more accurately.”

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