What we believe in tends to become our reality. Experiments and cognitive techniques can be powerful tools to change our beliefs about our sleep needs. Our assumptions do not always align with reality and this can make sleep difficult to manage. One typical example of misalignment between perception and reality is how many hours of sleep we need in order to feel rested. The recommended amount of sleep for adults ranges between 7 and 9 hours. However, some of us might need more and some might need less than that. Finding out what our individual need for sleep actually is can help us adjust our perception of what a good night of sleep is like.
Here are some experiments you can run to assess your need for sleep. The main question you should try to answer is “Am I productive, healthy and happy with this many hours of sleep?”
Experiment 1 – Easy
In the weekends, register how many hours you sleep for if you don’t set an alarm.
Experiment 2 – Intermediate
Holidays are a great opportunity to rest and recover, as well as the perfect time to experiment with your sleep. Try this:
Week 1: Use the first week of holidays to replenish your sleep deficit. You may sleep longer than you usually do and take naps during day-time as your body is working to refill a lack of sleep.
Week 2: In the second week, try to get out of bed once you are awake rather than having lay-ins. Then count how many hours you slept for. You should have now have indication of your need for sleep.
Experiment 3 – Advanced
If you are ready to challenge your sleep routines, try polyphasic sleep. Polyphasic sleepers sleep 2 or more times per day rather than only once. They commonly sleep no more than 5-6 during the night and combine nocturnal sleep with naps during the day. To find out whether polyphasic sleep can benefit you, try this:
Week 1: Keep track of your day-time functioning and nocturnal sleep for one week. During the first week, avoid napping during the day.
Week 2: Try taking short naps during the day while you keep recording day-time functioning and sleep at night. Compare your results to those you gathered during week 1. Did the naps have a positive impact on your life?
To keep track of your day-time functioning and sleep you can use 3 simple parameters:
Register problems related to sleep (e.g. “not sleepy when in bed”),
Register automatic thoughts about problem (e.g. “tomorrow will be exhausting”),
Reflect on what you achieved during the day (e.g. “I managed to get all my stuff done even though I was tired”).
If you found that the naps benefitted you, try to make them part of your daily routine and experiment with different patterns of polyphasic sleep: