From a young age we have been conditioned to believe that sleep is associated with a healthy mind. Most of the research around sleep looks at the negative effects of not getting enough sleep in the traditional way – lying down and in the darkness hours.
Do we have unrealistic expectations of sleep?
Sleep deprivation can take away our positive and caring thoughts and make us focus on negative ones. Just one night of disordered sleep heightens our responses to fearful or angry faces, whilst at the same time lowering our responses to sad faces. But does that response last and is it in any way structural to our long term wellbeing?
Research suggests that every second adult in the Western world experiences some kind of sleep disturbance. If alterations in sleep are so common, why are they called disturbances? We know that sleep is important for brain development but past adolescence there is very little evidence about how much and what type of sleep we need beyond the 4 or so hours our brains need to recharge. Even the National Sleep Foundation keeps on lowering its recommendations on the time we need to sleep.
Now it is acceptable as an adult to have only six hours sleep a night and if you are over 64 years old that drops to five hours. If so many people don’t sleep the way a panel of 13 experts and several prestigious organizations suggest, do we have unrealistic expectations of sleep?
Like sadness when it becomes chronic and is called depression, and anger when it becomes destructive and turns into cyberbullying, sleep disorders are only significant when they affect what we do and how we relate to others. Definitions may help us label the problem, but sleep is more than counting the hours of unconsciousness and assigning a very subjective label of “good”. What really matters are the outcomes of too little effective sleep.