Adults are recommended to sleep 7 hours or more every night to promote a healthy body and mind. But when was the last time you actually had 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep?
Seems like a lifetime ago, right?
When it comes to sleep, two things are crucial: sleep quantity and quality. You might have noticed that even on the odd days you get to sleep 7 hours or more, you still wake up exhausted. That’s because the quality of your sleep is not optimal.
Some people say that you can hack sleep and feel refreshed even after have restricted sleep? Is it really possible to sleep 8 hours in 4 hours and still feel relaxed?
Let’s find out.
What This Article Is All About?
Understanding Sleep Basics
You are not alone if you are struggling to get enough quality sleep. According to a 2016 study, a staggering 33-45% Australian population is struggling with sleep.
Sleep is still a mystery and researchers still don’t know why we need to sleep. The best guess is that sleep provides your body and mind some ‘off-time’ where they can recover and refuel.
When you are asleep, you go through two sleep stages: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
During the NREM cycle, your body systems (except the brain function), metabolism, and immune system slow down. This allows your body systems time to recover.
During the REM cycle, the brain activity explodes and this allows your brain to consolidate your memories and make new neuronal connections. Your sleep would be incomplete without both these cycles.
Can you get through both these cycles and have a quality sleep just by sleeping 4 hours?
The answer is both yes and no.
Everyone is different and the way your brain and body respond to sleep is completely different. For some people, they don’t sleep much and still manage to feel refreshed.
So when it comes to sleeping 4 hours, you won’t know if you are suited to sleep restricted hours and feel refreshed until you try this method.
You are most likely to go through the following changes in a week.
Day 1-2: During the first 2 days of sleeping 4 hours, you would feel better than ever. You would feel your physical and mental strength has improved.
Day 3-4: Over the next 2 days, the effects of restricted sleep duration will start to catch up. You will still be able to function but you will start to feel lethargic and you will have a mental fog. You will want to have a nap during the day time.
Day 5-7: These are the decisive days. During these 3 days, you would know if you are the kind of person who could get only 4 hours and still function or if this method is absolutely not working for you.
If you have made it through the first week, you are more likely to keep this new regimen of sleeping duration.
What Sleep Patterns to Follow if Trying to Sleep Only 4 Hours?
Again, this is highly subjective and depends from one person to the other. You have to figure out through hit and trial what method suits you the most. Here are some suggested methods.
Sleeping through the night: You sleep 4 hours throughout the night and don’t sleep the rest of the day.
Day and night sleep: You divide your sleep into 2 equal halves and sleep during the day and night on timings of your choice.
Night sleep with a daytime nap: You get the majority of your sleep at night and get 20-30 minutes naps (1 or 2) during the day time.
Power naps only: Not a lot of people can do this but the people who try this method firmly believe this to the best method of getting the most out of limited sleep duration. During this method, you sleep 30-60 minutes in 4-6 broken naps throughout the day.
There are countless sleep patterns that you can try and try to find out over time the method that suits you the most.
How to Ensure Sleep ‘Quality’?
If you are trying to sleep 8 hours in 4 hours and trying to feel more relaxed, sleep quality is of paramount importance.
If you have figured out the pattern that suits you and have found a way of sleeping only 4 hours then you can get the most out of these restricted hours by focusing on the quality of your sleep.
If you have not been able to restrict the sleep hours and still feel you need to get 7-8 hours of sleep like the majority of the population then you can continue to do so. Don’t force your body beyond its limits.
You can still try the following methods to ensure that you get quality sleep and wake every day refreshed and relaxed.
# 1: Get some exercise
At least twenty-nine studies have found that exercise can improve the quantity as well as the quality of sleep. Exercise improves your physical and mental well-being. Also, it aims at improving your circadian rhythm (the internal biological clock) that helps you go to sleep and get up early. The best time to exercise is in the early evening.
# 2: Check if you have sleep apnea and treat it
You might not know but sleep apnea is highly prevalent and one of the most commonly overlooked causes of poor quality disease.
If you have sleep apnea then you must get it diagnosed in a timely fashion and initiate treatment as early as possible.
Here is what you can do to improve your sleep quality if you snore and suspect that you have sleep apnea.
- Raise the head of the bed or just the body starting from the waist up a few inches can help in lowering the sound and intensity of snores.
- Sleep on the side and not the back to open the airways.
- Use nasal strips or elastic strips that stick to the bridge of your nose to widen your nostrils to help the airflow and decrease nasal congestion.
- Make a proper sleep schedule and stick to it.
- Use decongestants to open your airways.
- Avoiding excess intake of caffeine.
- Avoiding heavy meals before two hours of going to bed.
You can learn more about snoring and sleep apnea solutions here.
# 3: Restrict your screen time
Another simple yet highly effective strategy to improve sleep quality and quantity is to restrict your screen time. This includes mobile phones, laptops, TVs, tablets, and other electronic devices.
A study found that you are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep if you spend >8 hours daily using electronic devices. The effects are more profound if you use them 30 minutes before going to bed.
Melatonin is a chemical that your brain produces and controls your circadian rhythm. Research suggests that blue light (that has a shorter wavelength) inhibits the secretion of melatonin.
# 4: Quit smoking
Smoking is another factor that can promote sleep deprivation. A Chinese study compared the prevalence of sleep deprivation in smokers versus non-smokers. The findings suggested that smokers were significantly more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation compared to non-smokers.
Several factors might contribute to sleep deprivation among smokers. Nicotine is an addictive and stimulant substance and leads to smoking addiction. Also, smoking can lead to congestion and irritation of air passages that can lead to snoring, sleep apnea, and sleep deprivation.
# 5: Avoid excessive alcohol intake
Drinking in moderation can promote healthy sleep. However, excessive and binge drinking can do the opposite. Alcohol disrupts the natural sleep-wake cycle. It might help you go to sleep but would lead to significant sleep disruptions and early awakening.
Also, excessive drinking can promote sleep apnea. Alcohol can relax or close your throat muscles, which can increase the chances of narrowing of airways while sleeping.
# 6: Change your sleeping posture
Something as simple as changing the sleeping posture can help you sleep better. If you sleep on your back, it becomes easier for the airways to become obstructed, so try propping yourself up with pillows. Doing so may open your airways, ease breathing, and help to stop snoring. Sleeping on your side to help keep your tongue from relaxing into your airway is also helpful. If you have trouble staying on your side, there are wedges and other products you can buy to keep you propped on your side at night.
# 7: Seek medical assistance
It is always advisable to seek medical assistance if you have tried the obvious remedies and still can’t seem to improve your sleep quality. Also, you should seek medical assistance if you think your sleep deprivation is the result of an underlying health condition such as sleep apnea.
You should see your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that is accompanied by periods of silence. In some cases, people who suffer from sleep apnea are not even aware of whether their sleep was interrupted.
Many people with sleep apnea may think they sleep well all night but suffer symptoms of tiredness, headaches, and uncontrolled sleeplessness during the day.
Like alcohol, some medicines can also cause relaxations of muscles of the airways including sedatives, antihistamines, and muscle relaxants. So if you are on any of these medications and suffer from constant periods of sleep disruption accompanied by loud snoring, consult with your doctor.
For most, it might not be possible to squeeze 8 hours of sleep in 4 hours. The only possible way is to maximize the quality of sleep by 4 hours that you may feel well-rested after you wake up.
The important question to ask at this point is not how to sleep 8 hours in 4 hours to feel more relaxed but rather how to improve the quality of sleep of those 4 hours. If you follow the advice given in this article, you can aim to reduce your sleep hours by making up the quality of your sleep.
Dr. Muhammad Usman is a Doctor, Nutritionist, Wellness Coach and a Researcher with a deep insight into all aspects of writing related to health and science.