Roughly 41 million people in the USA, nearly a third of all working adults, get six hours or fewer of sleep a night, according to a recent report from the CDC. Sleep deprivation affects everyone, and it’s an affliction that crosses economic lines. 42% of the workers in the mining industry are sleep-deprived, while about 27% in finance share the same complaint.
While daytime napping is common in Asia, especially in China, India and Spain, people in the USA still nap less, and effectively sleep less overall. The concept of sleeping 8 hours a night is a relatively recent emphasis, but over the ages, people have been experimenting with different sleeping patterns. There is plenty of historical evidence of alternate sleep cycles.
Given the chance, the human body will naturally settle into a split sleep schedule. Short naps, as short as 24 minutes, are able to boost cognitive thinking. Robert Stickgold, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, proposes that sleep, including short naps that include deep sleep, offer the brain a chance to decide on what information to keep and what to discard. This could be one of the reasons why dreams are laden with strange plots and characters.
REM is the only phase of sleep during which the brain is active, similar to when humans are conscious, and this state allows the brain to come up with new ideas and hone recently acquired skills. This translated into a better understanding of new information upon awakening.
Some MLB players have adapted to the demands of long season by altering their sleep patterns. A former strength and conditioning coach for the Texas Rangers counseled his players to fall asleep with the curtains in their hotel rooms open so that they would naturally wake up at sunrise no matter what time zone they were. Once they arrived at the ballpark, he would set up a quiet area where they could sleep before the game. Players said that, thanks to this schedule, they felt great both physically and mentally over the long haul and this strategic napping has helped the Rangers players perform better for longer amounts of time.
[via New York Times, images by Brendan Monroe]