Sleep better

Words: Werner Jessner und Arek Piatek
Illustrations: Alex Williamson

… than Napoleon. Quality not quantity is the target: maximum recovery in the shortest time.

Napoleon is said to have got by on four hours of sleep a night. However, from experiments conducted by the military we know that a lack of sleep harms performance and that staying awake for 48 hours at a stretch can induce psychosis. Therefore, the aim shouldn’t be to sleep less, but instead to reduce the amount of sleep necessary without harming performance.

A 2002 study by the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center in La Jolla, California, discovered that those who sleep between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night live longer than those who rely on 8 hours—long considered to be the ideal amount.

What matters is the quality of the sleep, and now we mere mortals can gauge that ourselves thanks to the Quantified Self, a movement that espouses tracking aspects of your day-to-day life with technology. Using special fitness-tracker bracelets, anyone can now record their sleep phases.


Current amount of sleep required
8 hours

Minimum sleep required
6.5 hours (as of now)

A study has discovered that people who sleep between 6.5 and 7.5 hours per night live longer than those who sleep for 8.

We all have five phases of sleep per night, so by measuring the length of one of them with a fitness tracker and multiplying that number by five, you’ll find your ideal amount. And if you have a designated waking time, you’ll then be able to calculate exactly when you’ll need to go to sleep.

When you’re buried in a Netflix binge, you might allow yourself an extra waking hour or two. The important thing is the quality of your sleep and how long it takes you to drift off. Both can be affected negatively by alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and working at a computer screen in the two hours before you go to bed. Factors with a positive effect include darkness, a slightly cool room temperature, set sleeping rituals and the right hardware. Joanneum Research, an Austrian research institute, has found that beds made of Swiss stone pine don’t just significantly improve the quality of your sleep; they’ll also reduce your heart rate by 3,500 beats per day, which is equivalent to a full hour of cardiac work. The less often your heart has to beat during sleep, the less energy you expend, allowing your body to regenerate itself most efficiently. (We don’t have to take it as far as the groundhog, though, whose heartbeat drops to as low as 10 times a minute during hibernation.)

THE upshot

We already know the ideal amount of sleep, and the good news is that it’s accessible to everyone. The bottom line is that less is not necessarily better; let’s not forget that celebrated snooze-avoider Napoleon lost his final battles.

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08 2015 The Red Bulletin

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