Sleep, just like every other variable when it comes to humans, is different for every individual so why do we all strive to get 8 hours of sleep? Why is 8 hours considered as the golden standard and where did this number even come from?
Now, there is no question about the importance of sleep or how good quality sleep is linked to better cognitive, physical, emotional & mental health because there is enough evidence linking sleep deprivation, especially on a consistent basis with an increased risk of diseases and other health problems so we will not be spending too much time on why you should be getting a good night's sleep because you know exactly how you feel the next day when you don't.
To better understand where the 8 hour rule came from, let's look at the history of sleep
According to a team of researchers from UCLA, it was found that people in ancient civilisations might have had a sleep pattern where they went to sleep about 3.5 hours after sunset and had an average sleep duration of 6.25 hours while rarely waking up at night.
This is very different from what has been recorded in the 1400s & 1500s where it was common practice and a regular habit to sleep in 2 parts.People would wake during the middle of the night & use that time to either do chores,read, pray or even meet neighbours.
There is also a growing support for biphasic sleep or sleeping in 2 parts which might be better because according to evidence from both science & history now suggesting that monophasic sleep or sleeping in one big chunk of time might not be natural for us.
From the 17th century onwards was when the concept of sleeping in 2 parts began to disappear and this has been attributed to when improvements in street lighting & domestic lighting began to take place & become more common across households.
Once the use of electricity became more common in the 1900s and people started becoming more aware about the concept of time and being efficient during waking hours, the shift towards monophasic sleep patterns really became more permanent. This was also a time when the 8 hour workday was introduced and which ultimately accelerated society into a new structure of living their life. 8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest.
Now leading up to the millennium, the sleep industry saw a lot of new inventions like the foam mattress and a lot of interest in the science of sleep & its importance which has continued till this day and which also includes trying to figure out how much sleep is enough.
Yes, it has been established that different age groups have different sleep requirements for example toddlers might need 10-14 hours of sleep while teenagers might need 8-10 hours and adults between 6-8 hours. However there are a lot of factors right from your genes to your lifestyle that might dictate the amount of sleep you really need and it’s always best to decide that for your own. No research, science or expert will know you as well as you know yourself & the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t panic trying to figure out why, it might be more normal than you think.