I've always heard that we need eight hours sleep a night. But recently I've been seeing articles suggesting that we might not. This piece, on Alternet, suggests that our understanding of sleep is all wrong. The author, Lynn Parramore, writes:
"Pursuing the truth about sleep means winding your way through a labyrinth of science, consumerism and myth. Researchers have had barely a clue about what constitutes 'normal' sleep. Is it total time spent sleeping? A certain amount of time in a particular phase? The pharmaceutical industry recommends that we drug ourselves through the night, which, it turns out, doesn’t even work. The average time spent sleeping increases by only a few minutes with the use of prescription sleep aids. And -- surprise! -- doctors have just linked sleeping pills to cancer. We have memory foam mattresses, sleep clinics, hotel pillow concierges, and countless others strategies to put us to bed. And yet we complain about sleep more than ever."
She goes on to explain that, until recently, humans slept in two stages - often four hour chunks.
This squares with something I remember hearing in college, that we sleep in four increments. And on nights when I had a lot of work to do, I often aimed for four hours of sleep, because it seemed like an amount that corresponded with the natural rhythms of my body.
Anyway, sleep is important, and people need to do more of it. If research can help people learn how to sleep better, we should pay attention to it.