Are you finding it hard to sleep? Do you suffer from insomnia? The problem may be that your style of sleep is not the same as your style of life.
The basic question is, what type of sleeper are you? You probably didn’t realize that there are actually different sleeper types.
We treat sleep as a one-size-fits-all issue, as though everyone needs 8-hours of continuous sleep per night. And if you cannot achieve that goal, there are lots of drugs you can take to knock you out.
But what if your body doesn’t need all that sleep at one time? What if you like naps during the day and sleeping less at night? What if you are a night person and want to sleep during the day? What if you don’t want any schedule, and want to simply nap when you are tired.
When you have trouble conforming to the expected 8-hour-straight sleep regimen, then you are told you have insomnia. We all have times of insomnia, when we know we need to fall asleep, but we just can’t. We know that we have a big day tomorrow and need the sleep, so we try to make ourselves pass out with drugs or a hot bath, or some other method of interrupting our wakefulness so we can sleep. Sometimes, we awaken in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, tossing and turning the night away, until we finally fall asleep an hour before the alarm rings to get up.
It’s all about the need to conform to schedules. Daytime is the time for activity, while nighttime is meant for sleep. We are effectively “on” for 16-hours continuously and “off” for 8-hours continuously. At least, that’s the ideal, according to sleep medicine.
However, while it might be ideal for society to make everyone conform to a sleep schedule, as though we were robots that can be turned on and off, this could be one of the biggest stressors in our lives. We need to do things when it is convenient for others, our own needs be damned. And for most people, that requires sleeping through the night and working through the day, whether you like it or not.
The problem is not you. The problem is a cultural system that makes people conform to rigid schedules, ignoring their personal sleep needs.
This means insomnia is caused by the culture and its lifestyle requirements to have people sleep at fixed times. If people slept when they wanted to and not when they are told to, then they would not have insomnia.
So to understand this problem, we first need to identify what style of sleep a person has.
There are four broad sleep styles which I propose:
- Those who sleep throughout the night are nocturnal sleepers, or “Noctarians;
- Those who sleep during the day are diurnal sleepers, or “Diarians”;
- Those who sleep mostly during the night or during the day but take naps are “Naparians”;
- Those who sleep spontaneously, whenever they are tired with no schedules, are “Spontarians”.
Once a person identifies their sleep style, they need to develop a lifestyle that fits.
Most workers today are noctarians, and need to save all their sleep for night. This makes it necessary to sleep as long as possible throughout the night, since you will have no sleep during the day. This is ripe for creating insomnia, since the urgency to sleep will keep you awake, feeding a vicious cycle of frustrating sleeplessness while trying to fall sleep.
The solution to this may be taking naps during the day. Find a job where that is possible. Working at home may help. The problem is not in the sleeper, but in the requirement for sleeping only at night.
People who are diarians do best working at night jobs. If you prefer sleeping during the day, then get a night job. And keep in mind that you may need naps at night like noctarians need naps during the day.
Naparians are probably the most common style, since it allows rest between activities. People who regularly take siestas are in this category. They are mostly diarians or noctarians, but supplement their sleep time with naps. This breaks-up the time spent sleeping so you’re not lying down for 8-hours straight.
However, the sleep style most liberated from schedules is the spontarian style, when you have no clear schedule and simply sleep whenever you feel like it. This sleep style is best for retired people and the self-employed who work from home and have no firm schedules. When your time is your own, you can sleep whenever you want to, and be awake whenever you want to. Having to sleep at given times only matters when you have a schedule.
But what about the biological clock and circadian rhythm? Aren’t our bodies designed to follow a day-night cycle? Can’t sleeping at irregular times destroy this rhythm? Shouldn’t we ideally be noctarian and sleep at night?
Actually, the act of sleeping 8-hours without interruption is a luxury. It means you are not afraid that someone or some predator is going to kill you while you sleep. It requires a social order that enforces laws, a moral system that respects the rights of others, and a secure place to sleep with a door and lock. Most people, and animals for that matter, cannot afford this luxury of unconsciousness for 8-hours straight. But our culture has made this required, since we are expected to work all day.
Our culture’s schedules are the same throughout the month and year, but this is artificial. Nature is not so rigid. For example, not every day is the same. The amount of daylight changes through seasonal shifts. And nighttime is not the same from one night to the next. The moon waxes and wanes every month, which is known to affect our moods, hormones, and circadian rhythms. (The word “lunatic” refers to mental changes during the full moon, which is also when hospital emergency rooms are most busy.)
Lunar cycles are ignored when considering sleep needs, but they should not be. Moonlight makes it possible to get around in the night. Before the invention of artificial light, the moon was an important illuminator. Many cultures performed outside activities in the moonlight, including fishing, harvesting, and traveling. This is still the case for many living in rural areas, where artificial lighting is limited.
Lunar light helps people adjust to the seasonal availability of food, staying up late at night during a bright moon to harvest while the crop is ready. People who lived without artificial schedules were able to sleep whenever needed, and work when needed. They were able to be spontaneous, managing their personal needs and the world around them in a natural way. So we can guess pretty well that hunter-gatherer cultures were “spontarians”, or slept whenever they wanted and had the opportunity.
When humans entered the age of agriculture, there was a greater need for many people to work together, which would benefit from scheduling. More complex society brought greater need for social conformity and the need to have schedules for work and sleep.
Societies had therefore moved from “spontarians” to “naparians”, to “diarians”, and“noctarians”. Human history has gone from being free and natural to being progressively more controlled, as sleep time became more defined and naps became less available to workers.
Some cultures, even today, encourage naps during the afternoon, as with siestas. Naps are especially beneficial during the hot time of the mid-afternoon, when you don’t want to be in the sun. Many animals live this way, too. About mid-day, everyone rests, even diurnal animals. At night, nocturnal animals also take a rest.
The fact is, for animals and humans, you need a rest after being awake for awhile, which is why naps are helpful. But what happens when your culture does not allow time for naps, and you need to stay awake for 16 or more hours straight, every day?
What happens is that we learn to make ourselves go to sleep when the time comes for sleeping, not when we are necessarily sleepy.
And if you don’t get the sleep you will need for the next 16 hours of wakefulness, then you will start to feel fatigued and suffer from other problems from sleep deprivation. So you take sleeping pills to make your brain numb and fuzzy so you can sleep, which works some of the time, but is addicting and harmful in the longterm, and isn’t as restful as sleep without drugs.
In the meanwhile, the stress of not sleeping enough makes it harder to sleep, until you have a bonafide case of insomnia. This is when the sleep aid businesses get to sell you drugs, more comfortable beds and pillows, relaxation therapies, and anything else they can sell you that keeps you in your sleep pattern.
All you really may need is a change of lifestyle that better conforms with your personal sleep style.
Of course, when there are billions of dollars made selling sleep aids, there is no incentive to change the culture. People are suffering from sleep deprivation due to lifestyle demands that make you sleep when you must, not when you want to.
For those in slavery, there is no choice but to do what you are told. But for those who are free to choose their lifestyle, it is best to know what style of sleep you prefer so you can choose a job and way of life that lets you sleep whenever you want.
Here are some tips for better sleep:
- Don’t try to sleep if you are not tired. Sleep when you are sleepy.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something else.
- Take naps whenever you feel the need.
- Avoid sleeping pills, even melatonin, since these try changing your brain chemistry, instead of changing your lifestyle. They are addictive, have side effects (which often includes insomnia), and don’t solve the problem.
- Avoid stimulants before you want to sleep, including caffeine, alcohol, and exciting videos.
- If you still can’t sleep despite the above, consider mental health counseling, since stress could be the problem. This could also require changes to your lifestyle.
- Many people are uncomfortable in bed due to their body position and how they sleep. To find the best way to sleep, see my article, Rest In Peace: How the Way You Sleep Could Be Killing You.
Our culture’s obsession with schedules has forced people into artificial sleep patterns, leading to dysfunctional sleep and insomnia. The solution can be changing one’s lifestyle to match one’s sleep style. Of course, this is easier said than done, and requires a commitment to one’s personal health and happiness. Meanwhile, the sleep aid industry is making billions trying to help people sleep on schedule, even when they can’t. In the end, we have sleepless, sleepy people, lots of sleep aid drug sales, and a system that is better run by programmable robots than by humans.