I've been in touch before, and found it to be a highly valuable exchange. I was just reading your post titled 'Watching the Lightning' and had a couple of questions, if you don't mind?
Firstly, do you find 4-7 hours sleep per night sustainable? I note the post was written a few months ago so I imagine this has been enough time to measure the success of getting aforementioned amount of sleep. I've tried to limit myself to 6 hours sleep a night, but found it a struggle after 2 or 3 days. I plan to push through the struggle as I imagine it will become easier after time, which leads me to my second question: what steps did you take when planning to reduce your time spent sleeping?
I have my highest performance levels overall when I'm average 7.5 hours per night. But often I get there in a funny way - a mix of 4 hour nights and 12+ hour nights. Beyond that, I think napping is valuable, diet/exercise/health is extremely important if you want to do it, consistency is important, and also getting high quality sleep in general.
I've recently come of the opinion that most people get very little really good sleep - too much artificial light, not enough exercise, bad diets, stimulant usage (caffeine...), inconsistent schedules, and so on. I think it'd be possible to run at the 4-6 hour sleep range with maybe a 30-120 minute nap each day, but you'd need to be near perfect across the board on all the good sleep elements with serious discipline about consistent schedule, total darkness and minimal artificial light before you're going to sleep, regular exercise, a perfect diet, maybe quit caffeine entirely?, and similar.
Needless to say, I'm not there yet. I average 7.5 hours to 8.5 hours per week, though I actually do high level work really well on the first 2-3 days of 4 hours of sleep. But then I start to drag and sleep 10-14 hours for a night or two after a while of that. Yet, I think it would be possible with perfect sleeping, health, and lifestyle habits.
Hope that helps shed some light.
From a medical standpoint there are a few things to consider. As Mr. Marshall hit on earlier a big part of sleep is the consistency of your body and the environment you are sleeping in. Drinking fluids before bed forces your body to get up many times throughout the night. Diet, caffeine, alcohol, antihistamines, benzodiazepines, and many other medications can have a huge impact on the ability of a body to begin sleep, stay asleep, and get an adequate amount of REM sleep.
Another point to consider can be age, as our bodies age they go through many changes with sleep being a big one. The older you get the less stimulus it requires to wake, so a person may begin sleep just as well but wake many times throughout the night. One component of sleep that is often overlooked is the production of melatonin in your body. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland to help regulate circadian rhythm. It's production can vary greatly between people and can decline at very different age points. Most adults experience a 37% decline in melatonin production between the ages of 20 and 70. You can get melatonin in most pharmacies over the counter, it is usually quite cheap and has a good deal of efficacy in addition to being very safe to use. Unlike many other sleep aids it does not alter your dreams or REM sleep. But at the same time, its not a magic bullet, simply one component of a healthy sleep schedule.
Another point to consider when sleeping is your environment; and not simply what is in it and how it is built but what you do in the bedroom. Cognitive behavioral therapy is sometimes used to address sleep problems. Some big points there: don't do anything stressful before bed, go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Another point that might sound obvious but can be very powerful, go to bed when you are sleepy. Most people will know what I mean when I say that I think. There is a time throughout the night when the urge to sleep hits harder than at other times. Sometimes you are otherwise engaged, watching tv, reading whatever the case may be instead of forcing yourself to finish what you are doing out of habit, just go to bed when you are tired. Another point from CBT, the bedroom should really only be used for sleep and sex and should be as lightless as possible. Don't stay in the bed agonizing over sleep. If you can't get to bed go read or do something else relaxing in another room.
Also, in regard to 'averaging' sleep over the course of a week - this is something I have done on occasion, but don't necessarily recommend it. Consistency in sleep patterns is something the body is naturally adapted to, and attempting to average sleep (4 hours tonight, 12 tomorrow) can be quite disruptive. You end up needing a greater amount of sleep than would otherwise be required if you just get a consistent amount each night.
Trying to cut back on sleep is a serious false economy. I've found about 7 hours a night is ideal. Try to sleep less than that consistently and productivity suffers to the point where I end up getting less done. You can borrow time from sleep - there have been occasions where I've worked up to 56 hours straight. But the loan has to be repaid in short order, and usually with interest.
I've tried to going on less sleep, and I just don't like it. I don't like how I am, slow and loggy. I lose my sense of humor because I'm not on the ball enough to see anything but literalities. But to be completely fair, there's never been a time for me that lack of sleep hasnt been associated with overwork.
But I like sleep, I sleep well. I nearly always dream, and I don't require the ritual and habit that many people seem to require. When I sleep, I sleep. It's a form of meditation, clearing the decks for the next day. Where's the benefit of giving that up?
It´s easy to get used to a different amount of sleep. All you need is a boss to tell you when you should get started with the work. In other words, you need to become your own boss and push yourself harder. Feel that it´s your duty to reach what you want. It is hard in the beginning, but with some exercise and fresh air an hour each day really makes a difference. You need to take your responsibilities more seriously too. Personally I feel I am more alert with only 4 hours of sleep. 4 hours per night and 8 hours at the work, you will manage it, but the concentration goes down dramatically after the 8 hours of work. So if you want to learn and memorize things after the work, it will be tuff. Somehow I made it. But when I think of it later I might have wasted some time. Learning things should be easy and fun, then you want to continue doing it.
Got a good question from a reader about sleep. One of my goals is to sleep less than 8 hours/night
Hello, and thanks for inviting your blog visitors to email you directly. I just came across your site today, and got some good reading out of your "top stories" list. What compelled me to write, though, was a trend I noticed on some of your "goals" posts: sleeping less than 8 hours per night.
It caught my attention, because at first glance it looks counter-intuitive. Yet I understand exactly what you mean.
Cut. Return to monologue later. Get to the askin':
How is it working out for you?
I think that some might be surprised to hear how much I sleep and how important it is to me. I average right around eight hours per day (tracked for a few months), and prioritize sleep very strongly, even over most work.
Once ten pm comes around, I have four options for things I'm allowed to do: I can play violin, read a book, work, or sleep. Computer is off at midnight every day, at which point I usually read for an hour or two, and then go to sleep.
The other night I was tired at ten, but I was really excited about my work so I tried to push through and keep at it. I was stuck trying to fix something, but I managed to try five or ten solutions out before getting in bed. At the time, it felt like a good choice.
I woke up the next morning, took one look at the code, and spotted the solution instantly. Within five minutes it was fixed. Once is a fluke, but I've noticed this pattern over and over again with work when I'm tired-- it feels like I'm working, but often I'm just spinning my wheels.