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Debunking the 8-Hour Sleep Myth: What You Need to Know

Tara Youngblood Sep 12, 2022

The 8 hour sleep myth

Change and sleep don't usually go hand in hand, yet life can shake things up, such as those middle-of-the-night wake-up calls from a crying baby or early mornings when your dog, leash in mouth, is itching for a walk.

Then there are those late nights your boss keeps you at work, throwing your regular bedtime out of sync.

Sure, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and getting eight hours of shut-eye might be ideal for your health, but real life—with its fussy babies, playful pets, and demanding jobs—doesn't always follow a script.

We can't always clock in those eight hours of sleep, but what really matters is making sure the sleep we get is of high quality, even if it's not for a fixed amount of time every night.

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Quality of Sleep Over Quantity

Quality sleep improves health and performance, and not getting enough quality sleep could result in health risks such as heart disease and obesity. Therefore, getting the right amount of quality sleep is vital for mental, physical, and emotional health. [1]

So, how much quality sleep do we need? Let’s first look at the sleep stages.

The body and brain are inherently designed to progress systematically through 4 stages of sleep. Stages 1-3 are known as non-rapid eye movement (N-REM). Stage 4 is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. One round of stages 1-4 lasts about 90 minutes on average. [2]

Read More: How to Find Your Sleep Duration

There’s more to good sleep than just the hours spent in bed.

Dr. Marishka Brown

Sleep expert at the National Institutes of Health

Deep Sleep

The first half of the night is your deep sleep window. During this period, everything drops further: your heart rate, your breathing, your blood pressure, your muscle activity, and your body temperature. [3]

Deep sleep is the third stage of NREM sleep, so you may hear it called NREM Stage 3 or N3. In sleep medicine, deep sleep may be referred to as slow-wave sleep (SWS) because your brain waves are the slowest at this stage. It may also be called “delta sleep” due to the fact delta waves are seen on the electroencephalogram (EEG).

These slow delta waves indicate you’ve reached a deeply meditative and dream-free sleep. [4-5]

What is deep sleep?

REM Sleep

REM sleep occurs when the eyes tend to dart back and forth in different directions under closed eyelids. This is when dreams most often take place. Although it might seem those eye movements are due to the scanning of dream images, this has not been definitively proven. [6] Other names for REM include active sleep, desynchronized sleep, and paradoxical sleep. [7]

Read more on why REM sleep is so important.

Now that you have an understanding of the sleep stages, we can discuss how much deep sleep is needed. The ideal amount is two hours. However, how much you get will depend on your age and current sleep needs. According to research by the US Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research, healthy adults spend roughly 13-23% of their sleep in deep sleep. [8]

Quality vs. quantity of sleep is critical. Just focus less on a set number and more on allowing your body to move naturally into a deep sleep so you wake up feeling rested. If you only get five hours of sleep, make it the best five hours possible.

8-Hour Sleep Myth

Differentiating between facts and myths can be difficult at times. Do we need to sleep eight hours every night? Is drinking eight glasses of water each day necessary? Will we actually get warts from touching a toad?

We’ve heard these things for so long that we start to believe them. As for sleep, where did the rule of sleeping eight hours each night come from?

Psychologist Haily Meaklim blames the industrial revolution for the 8-hour sleep time.

“The saying that everybody needs eight hours of sleep is associated with the industrial revolution – eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest,” she said. “Genetics, age, medical conditions, environmental, and behavioral factors determine how much sleep you need.

Some people require more than eight hours and some less. Certain people function well on less than six hours, and can actually experience insomnia when aiming for eight hours every night.”

Psychologist Stephanie Centofanti agrees:

“We often hear eight hours as being the magical number to strive for, but in fact, sleep needs vary greatly between individuals. It’s important to figure out what works best for you and to prioritize sleep so you are getting enough sleep every night.” [10]

Read More: How Much Sleep Do I Need?

How Body Temperature Affects Sleep

How do we prioritize restful sleep without necessarily adhering to the 8-hour myth as a guideline? Meditation, mindfulness, journaling, and keeping our eyes away from blue light found in devices/televisions are all great starting points to improving sleep quality.

Once our mind is in a calmer state, we can better let go of the day and embrace our body’s need to sleep and recover. Then, once you’re cozy in bed, tired, and mentally prepared to rest, your body needs a physical change to happen to signal that it’s the appropriate and safe time for sleep. This change is a drop in temperature.

Matt Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of the Center for Human Sleep Science recommends eight hours of sleep, but says optimal sleep time can range between seven hours and nine hours. He does believe dropping your core temperature is vital for uninterrupted sleep.

Your body needs to drop its core temperature by about two to three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and then to stay asleep, and it's the reason you will always find it easier to fall asleep in a room that's too cold than too hot,” Walker said. [11]

Matt Walker

Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley

But lowering our bedroom temperature can only go so far. To have an impact on our internal body temperature, we have to start with the bed we’re sleeping on. Our Chilipad Cube and Chilipad Dock Pro bed cooling systems can lower your body temperature at night, providing quality, deep sleep.

Benefits of Sleeping Cooler

  • The quicker the body can shed heat, the quicker it can get to sleep.
  • The faster it gets to sleep, the faster the sleep cycle kicks in.
  • The sooner the sleep cycle kicks in, the sooner your body can begin the natural process of repairing cellular structures, making sense of the brain’s memory of events, and preparing the body to power through the next day.

Read More: The Best Techniques to Fall Asleep Fast

You can now adjust your bed temperature in real time. Upgrade your Chilipad Dock Pro with our new sleepme+ membership that will improve your sleep while you sleep. The sleepme+ membership includes a first-of-its-kind technology, Hiber-AI, and a non-wearable sleep tracker that collects, analyzes, and acts on real-time sleep data. When the sleep tracker is paired with the Chilipad Dock Pro, Hiber-AI will adjust the bed temperature based on your current real-time sleep data.

Final Thoughts

It's not about how long you sleep every night; it's about the quality of sleep you receive.

You’re still going to tend to children in the middle of the night. Pets will demand your attention in the early morning hours. And you’re not always going to get to bed at a reasonable time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t receive quality sleep even if you don’t get that complete eight hours.

At sleepme you will find all our sleep products that will help you sleep better and get the most out of your sleep.

Citations/Resources

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, July 15). Good sleep for good health. National Institutes of Health.

[2] Cleveland Clinic. (2021, December 3). Sleep: How much you need and its 4 stages. View Resource

[3] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2022, September 26). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. View Resource

[4] Patel, A. K., & Araujo, J. F. (2018). Physiology, Sleep Stages. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. View Resource

[5] Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. (2006). In H. R. Colten & B. M. Altevogt (Eds.), PubMed. National Academies Press (US). View Resource

[6] Felson, S. (2005, April 26). What Are REM and Non-REM Sleep? WebMD View Resource

[7] Summer, J. (2021, December 16). REM Sleep: What It Is and Why It Matters. Sleep Foundation.

[8] Colten, H. R., Altevogt, B. M., & Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research (Eds.). (2006). Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. National Academies Press (US). View Resource

[9] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 14). CDC - How Much Sleep Do I Need? - Sleep and Sleep Disorders.

[10] Hansen, A. (n.d.). The rule that everyone needs eight hours of sleep is a myth. Quartz.

[11] Matthew Walker-Reclaim Your Right to a Full Night’s Sleep. (2023). Eyeonsunvalley.com.

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