Early RiserYesterday I completed the Advanced Early Riser quick start assignments. Today I read about sleep science and the five parts to becoming a real morning person.

The Truth About Sleep

Author Steven Aitchison starts out this section challenging the vast majority of sleep specialists — Thomas Wehr in particular. He claims the 8-hour sleep rule is a myth. He says that the amount we sleep is mostly a trained behavior.

Coming from a family of scientists, I hesitate to throw out real research based on minimally supported claims based on someone who “read a lot,” but I will share some anecdotal information that supports Aitchison claims.

Rarely in my life have I gotten the “required” amount of sleep. I cannot tell you how many times I've had people say, “I could never function on that little sleep.” or “I need a minimum of X hours or I can't do anything.” I'm not in a position to argue with them, but I admit that often I think it's poppycock.

I do have a hard time getting going in the morning. (I don't drink coffee or need another stimulant to get me moving, but I kind of shuffle around for a while most mornings and I'd really like to be one of those people who pops out of bed, raring to go.) But I almost never take afternoon naps (who has time?) and I get a lot done most days, even days following nights of very little sleep. It could well be that I'm just wired different, but I do think there is some component of just deciding that the amount of sleep I got the night before won't be the ultimate predictor in my accomplishments, mood, or productivity. In other words, I think the fact that I rarely get enough sleep has compelled me to learn to deal with it, while other people won't put in the extra effort required to overcome being tired on those few days they had less than optimum sleep.

Perhaps that can be related to other disabilities or conditions. I know paralyzed people who accomplish all sorts of great physical feats, while able-bodies people will stay home with a sprain or sore toe. I've had chronic sinusitis for over 12 years. (Read that: I've had a severe sinus infection for well over a decade.) Most people I know will stay home and lie in bed when they have a serious sinus infection. But when it's a daily condition, you aren't likely to decided to spend the rest of your life in bed. You just deal with it and get on with your life.

[Yes, I had endoscopic sinus surgery in 2002. It didn't work. The current medical thinking is that most such conditions are fungal — and they don't know how to cure that yet. Lysol, anyone?]

In addition to my own life experience, sleep scientists are, as Aitchison points out, pretty open about how little they really understand about sleep. It's an area almost as speculative as weight loss. Nobody knows for sure and each person is really, really different, but we're going to speculate anyway. And maybe get some peer-reviewed papers and some federal research funding out of it.

In any event, in my completely non-scientific way, what Aitchison says rings true to me. Your milage may vary.

Here Comes the Science Bit

Aitchison takes about five pages to outline real sleep science. He focuses not on the vast speculative part, but generally on what we really do know about sleep. This is actually a helpful — if academic — portion. Don't skip it. He covers these areas:

  • Brainwaves
  • Stages of sleep

The AER Circle

How to Become an Advanced Early Riser uses a practical plan focusing on five ares that will help maximize sleep benefits. Here is a brief rundown of these areas.

Preparation: Things to do in the few hours before sleep to get you primed for a good night.

Hibernation: How to make the actual sleep process optimal.

Brain Resting: Spending some mental down time during the day, can make you more productive.

Conditioning: Contributions of physical fitness to a good night's sleep.

Nourishing: What goes in your body makes a big difference in how it performs for you.

The practical sleep modules will come next. I'm excited to see what changes I can make.

Do you think you need eight hours of sleep? How much experimentation have you done?

How to Become an Advanced Early Riser