Along with the invention of the lightbulb came a big interference in people's natural sleep habits. Any time of day, and almost anywhere on the planet, the night can be made into day. Unfortunately this has negative implications for our health. The question is this: How much sleep do we really need?
When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb on the evening of October 21st, 1879, the lives of humankind suddenly and dramatically changed. From then on, it became a simple thing to turn night into day. The time that people spent doing things that required light could be greatly extended, which had a big impact on the business world and thus also on the well-being of individuals.
Electric light turns night into day – unfortunately that's not always beneficial for us
It was only recently discovered that we come into the world with a complex hormonal system that reacts to the presence or absence of sunlight. When it's dark, our bodies begin to produce melatonin, a neurochemical substance with a key role in the emergence of drowsiness. If it is bright, the production of melatonin is stopped and the body turns to the production of hormones that keep us awake. This means that we are naturally set up to be away in the daytime and to sleep during the nighttime; our waking-sleeping cycle is thus predominantly driven by our sensitivity to light.
Sleep research sought to uncover people's natural sleeping pattern
We do not precisely know how many hours our ancestors slept on average per night, but there are a few methods for making a coherent picture of it. Here's what sleep researchers have studied:
- The sleeping behaviour of people who are camping and have no artificial light available
- How people in sleep labs behave if they don't know whether it is day or night
- How people in the non-industrialised world sleep
- Historical sources that cover the topic of sleep
The findings from sleep research are clear, and they point the way to healthy sleep
The research all pointed to the same result: Nature intended for us to sleep when it is dark outside, and that means for about nine to ten hours per night.
Unfortunately in the everyday reality of most people, the picture looks very different – many people visit their doctors with complaints about the problem of long-term fatigue. The average modern European gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night, which means nothing other than that we are generally sleep-deprived throughout our entire lives.
Almost everyone is living with a chronic sleep deficit, and the results can be fatal
First off, one consequence of this is that many people regularly or even daily grab for caffeinated drinks to perk themselves up, and second, the body has to pay the price for the ongoing lack of sleep. In summary, here are the effects of sleep deficiency:
- Chronic fatigue
- Increased anxiety and depressive symptoms
- Side effects related to the chronic use of stimulants (coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, energy drinks, cigarettes, etc.), e.g. high blood pressure, heart disease, increased risk of stroke, decreased bone strength
- Weakened immune system
- Increased irritability and nervousness
We should always sleep in, or to put it more precisely, we should always sleep completely. What does that mean? On most days, we should wake up spontaneously, feeling well-rested. This is a sign that our need for sleep has been satisfied. You achieve this if you sleep between nine and ten hours per night. To improve the quality of your sleep, it is also good to regularly engage in physical activity outdoors, and go to bed at the same time every day. The final bit of advice for encouraging quality nighttime rest: Your bedroom should be cool, dark and as quiet as possible.
Source: Dr. Douglas J. Lisle and Dr. Alan Goldhammer, The Pleasure Trap, 2016
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