Every animal, including humans, requires sleep for the maintenance of
health. From a scientific point of view, there are many unanswered
questions. Without question, however, we cannot function without sleep,
and we cannot function well without enough sleep. For an otherwise
healthy adult, it appears that 8 1/4 hours of sleep is the average
requirement. Experiments have shown, however, that in the “natural”
state, it would require about 11 hours to get this much sleep. It
appears that the normal pattern for all mammals is to have two roughly
4 hour sleep segments. In between the two is a 90 minute period of
semi-sleep which follows a period of deep sleep and dream sleep, after
which the second four hour segment occurs, followed again by a roughly
90 minute period of semi-sleep. Healthy adults who participated in
these experiments reported feeling significantly more alert and with a
much greater sense of well-being than they otherwise noted. The
disruption of the normal sleep cycle is made possible largely by our
capacity to utilize non-solar sources of light. During darkness,
however, the pineal gland, located in the brain, makes Melatonin, a
hormone crucial to the function of the immune system, surveillance
against cancer, and possibly bone health (to name but a few
activities). Not spending enough time in darkness may be a huge mistake
that the whole culture is only now starting to recognize. Studies show
that sleep deprived workers are much more likely to make errors, to
have accidents, to become ill, etc. Academic performance of adolescents
improves dramatically when school hours are shifted to later in the
morning, a schedule which is much more appropriate to the unique
requirements of high-school students. Sleep researchers generally
consider it to be “normal” to wake in the morning in a somewhat groggy
state. I reserve judgment on this. It may only be that the studies are
actually being performed on sleep-deprived individuals, since, in our
culture, there may be no one available who gets the right amount of
sleep in the right form. Certainly some people do wake feeling
“ready-to-go.” Some people fall asleep very quickly, no matter what the
circumstances. Most people seem to require some period of time to do
so, however. It seems to me that this time should be rather short.
Proper sleep “hygiene” includes a regular bed-time, darkness, adequate
physical exercise during the day, not eating just before going to bed,
etc.