The myth of the three hour sleeper

The more I hear this one, the more I am skeptical: ‘I need only three hours sleep a night’. The catch is that you can do that only with the cursed alarm clock. And you might be able to kid yourself after many years that you are operating at your best after that brief horizontal stretch. But not so, zombie. Most people know that sleep goes roughly in 1.5 hour cycles, ranging from deep sleep to rapid eye movement sleep (REM).

But it also changes after about 3-4 hours. The deep sleep of that first phase does all those necessary things to your body – process alcohol, repair wounds, muscles and nerves, ease those wrinkles. But then you get hit with the second phase and all its REM. This is the time for grand voyages, scary moments, horny dreams, and whatnot. It’s when the brain processes a whole pile of crap, solving problems that seemed insurmountable the night before. Get that sleep and in the morning you’re carvin’ it. Miss it and you get distracted and cranky, make mistakes, manage mechanical tasks but not sustained thought. In other words, life is crap and you feel like death warmed up.

All this reminds me of the triple-8 campaign by the unions. It wasn’t a campaign for the 8-hour day; it was for 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep and 8 hours leisure. I guess it all comes from living in a solar system with one sun, on a planet that does its impressive spin roughly every 24 hours. It would of course be somewhat different if we had two suns and different cycles, but we’re stuck with this one.

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4 thoughts on “The myth of the three hour sleeper

  1. The writer of this article is right on. There is a subconscious want to not sleep at all. Before the fall of humanity there was not death hence there was no need to sleep. We want it to be the way it was but the devil was chosen to be our master residing in the body. The devil is is weak, and weary ever since he rebelled. That is why the body needs sleep. The lack of it harms the body, and mind. God in the soul is good to people. One day it will be the way it was. No one needing sleep ever again living in eternal day in Gods glory. To have that then we must be like Jesus is now.

    1. Hang on, sleep isn’t a result of the Fall; it’s prelapsarian bliss. And we need to avoid the reactionary utopia of wishing that everything would return to the mythical state of paradise. Instead, the sleep of the eschaton will leave the Garden of Eden for dead.

  2. I think (Dude Looks Like a) Lady Thatcher was also said to be one of those supermen who got by on 3 hours of sleep. And of course she’s been making up for it by spending her last few decades asleep.

    1. And K.Rudd, our former labor prime minister, also claims to be able to manage on 3 hours sleep a night. The result was that he gained a nickname as ‘Captain Cranky’ and couldn’t keep his act together when the polls started to slip a little (from 73%). Nor could he handle the leadership coup that saw Gillard installed in his place.

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