- If you get insomnia, this may reassure you…
- Why sleeping all night is not actually ‘normal’
- Which of these four types are you – lion wolf, bear or dolphin?
Trouble sleeping through the night?
It’s hugely frustrating, I know.
I’ve had my own bouts of insomnia, usually caused by worry and stress.
But for many people, it’s not something that happens occasionally.
It’s just a way of life and it’s maddening.
However, this may reassure you a little…
It’s not actually that normal to sleep all the way through the night.
Before the industrial revolution (and the invention of electric light), people would get home exhausted from their day’s labour and go to bed early, as soon as it was dark.
Then they’d wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed and cook food, talk to their family and even visit friends.
This is all in a book called At Day’s Close: Night In Times Past by historian Roger Ekirch. He explains that most of us used to have two shorter sleeps rather than one long one.
In 2012, sleep psychiatrist Gregg Jacobs told the BBC: “For most of evolution we slept a certain way. Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology.”
So if you have a problem with waking up in the night, it might be thousands of years of human evolution that’s causing it.
In fact, it turns out that our sleep habits are programmed into our DNA and are linked to the PER3 gene.
People with different genetic makeups can have naturally different sleep patterns.
In the old days, we were divided into two types:
- Larks – morning people
- Owls – night people
However, in his recent research, Dr Michael Breus, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says there are actually four types…
Which of these 4 sleep types are you?
- Lions – these account for around 15-20% of the population. They are early risers, who tend to be focussed on their goals and generally optimistic. They’re more inclined towards exercise and fitness, but get slumps in the late afternoon. That said, they are able to fall asleep easily.
- Wolves – around 15-20% of the population struggle in the mornings and feel at their most energetic after sundown, but they also tend to be hungry in the evening and therefore more likely to experience weight control issues. They are more likely to be pleasure seeking types who take risks.
- Dolphins – a smaller portion (10%) of the population are habitually light sleepers, prone to insomnia, who get racing thoughts at night and wake up all the time. They wake up tired and never feel quite alert, though get bursts of energy throughout the day. They tend to be smart and introverted, says Breus.
- Bears – these account for 50% of the population. They get 7-8 hours sleep each night and are alert during the day, but tired in the evening. They always want more sleep, even though they get enough of it. Bears tend to be extroverted and open minded.
So that means around half the population are not programmed to experience the conventional sleep pattern of ‘bears’ – the recommended 7-8 hours each night – and who aren’t always going to be at their best during working hours.
It’s important to know this because you might be struggling against your DNA in a futile battle when it comes to your sleep patterns.
And because of this, understand that when you read advice about sleep, we are not all the same, and there’s no “one size fits all” remedy (this goes for SO many health matters).
How to adapt to your body’s programming
The key is to see if you can make the most of your sleep habits in order to get rest, whether it means establishing a firm routine or prioritising vital tasks at peak times.
Unfortunately, not all of us have the luxury of choosing our ideal hours, as work and family commitments mean we don’t have the freedom to experiment.
But if it’s something you can try out, then I’d recommend you try and adapt your life to your natural sleep programming.
For instance, if you’re a dolphin, perhaps try a 40-minute siesta after lunch in the Mediterranean style. If possible, try and re-work your morning routine so you can sleep in a bit longer, allowing you that hour or two of inevitable wakefulness in the night.
If you’re a lion, see if you can get an early start at work and an early finish (if you’re lucky enough to have flexi-time). Do all your important tasks in the early morning and avoid late nights if possible.
If you’re a wolf, create an afternoon/evening schedule to get important things done then, rather than forcing yourself into a brutal morning routine. Also try to get yourself to bed by midnight (even if you don’t want to!).
Even if you can’t adjust your schedule – it’s good to be aware that being awake in the middle of the night is not necessarily a problem you can fix.
Instead of letting it stress you out use those waking periods to think, meditate, write your diary, or allow your imagination to drift. Even get up for an hour and do something useful.
However, if you do need to sleep as much as possible at night (and let’s face it, that goes for nearly all of us) then there is one thing you should try.
The nutrient that gives you a wonderful night’s rest
Magnesium has been linked to better sleep – that is, if you take a top-up every day over the long term.
It’s not some old wives’ tale either. Enthusiastic users of magnesium supplements claim that your sleep can become so deep and restful that you wake up groggy and don’t even want to get out of bed.
However, this ‘magnesium hangover’ is brief and, as soon as you’re up and about, they say that you feel as fresh as a daisy – or at least fresher than usual!
For more about magnesium, take a look at this: Magnesium for more sleep
Enjoy your weekend – I’ll write soon!