Do you need 8 hours sleep a night?



  • Is getting a good night’s sleep now a status symbol
  • Why this 8 hours a night sleep advice is rubbish

This was such good timing!

No sooner had our brilliant email technician pressed ‘SEND’ on Thursday’s issue of The People’s Doctor, which was all about sleep…

…than a friend sent me an article in The Guardian with this headline:

“How a good night’s sleep became the ultimate status symbol”

As I’d just been telling you about how a “good night’s” sleep is actually NOT the norm for many human beings, this made me laugh.

It wasn’t the article that was wrong, but the subject of the article – Arianna Huffington, head honcho of the news site The Huffington Post.

She’s been proudly telling everyone that the key to success and well-being is to get eight hours every night.


What kind of normal person gets eight hours sleep?

Aside from the usual problems of work, family, pets and other things that make you get up early (and stay awake worrying at night)… there’s also illness, stress, insomnia, traffic noise, prescription drug side-effects, annoying street-lighting, raucous neighbours…

Besides, as I pointed out to you on Thursday, brain scientists are increasingly convinced that humans aren’t built for one long sleep every night. Right up until a few hundred years ago most of us had two shorter sleeps. This helps clear the neural pathways in your brain for better memory power.

It also frees you of that panic about being awake in the night, when you could simply accept the fact, then get up and do something useful.

So rather than listen to a tycoon boast about her amazingly long sleeps, and how wonderful your life would be if you could to it too… remember that a shorter night’s sleep and a siesta is probably far healthier.

And here’s the thing that made me laugh.

In the article, the journalist asked how Arianna Huffington got her eight hours’ sleep?

Well, with a LOT of help, allegedly.

Huffington has something called an ‘A-Team’ of staff who do everything from switching on her computer to running errands and booking hotels. Apparently the team are so overworked and underpaid they have to take on second jobs.

The article says: “Basically, they don’t sleep so that Huffington can … and can sell books about it.”

Yes, she’s even writing a book to share her wisdom and get a bit more profit out of it.

I’d agree that if you’re rich enough and have hired staff to take all the stress away from life, maybe it’s possible to get eight hours sleep every night.

But as with almost everything in the world of health and medicine, one size doesn’t fit all.

Our bodies are different, our lifestyles are different, and where we live makes a difference – people in colder darker climates might need more or less sleep than people in bright hot climates, for instance.

In other words, it’s all a bit of a nonsense.

I’m not sure why an internet news tycoon is writing what is, effectively, a health book. But my guess it’s going to be full of “how I became so great and why you’re not” stuff.

I could be wrong – so if you read it, love it, and get your eight hours sleep then let us know!

There are also a few little things you can do to get a better sleep that might work.

  • Cut out cured meats, potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines in the evening – these contain a stimulant called tyramine, so best have them for lunch than dinner.
  • Keep your feet warm. According to a 1999 study in the journal Nature, the warmer your hands and feet, the quicker you get to sleep. So try wearing socks in bed!
  • Do exercise at least three hours before you go to bed. Exercise releases a stress hormone called cortisol that keeps your brain alert. Not a good recipe for sleep!
  • Rid yourself of the day’s worries. According to Michael Grandner from the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania. “Take some time in the evening to work through the day, make lists to do tomorrow and clear your mental desktop of the stuff that you still have to think about.” Once you’ve done that, then you are ready for bed.
  • Keep some lavender in your room, burn lavender scent oils or have a hot bath that has lavender oil in it. Tiffany Field from the University of Miami has studied the effects of lavender and claims that it can “slow down heart rate, slow blood pressure and put you in a parasympathetic state, which is a relaxed state”.
  • …or sprinkle lavender oil on your pillow (if you’re female!) In a 2008 study at the University of the West of England researchers sprinkled the oil onto the beds of female insomniacs in their 50s. Compared with a placebo, they got to sleep more easily and reported a better quality of sleep.
  • NAP! As discussed on Thursday, consider an afternoon nap and then you won’t have such urgency to get a long night’s sleep.

If you missed Thursday’s issue about why a good night’s sleep might not be a natural option for many of us, then you can read it here

I’ll be back with more next week – sleep well!


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