While some of us identify ourselves as night owls or early birds, most of us probably have a fairly regular sleeping pattern. Researches tell us that we’re naturally designed to have two sleeps a day: a long one at night and another one in the early afternoon. Early afternoon is when our energy naturally dips lower than usual and we have a harder time focusing. In fact, according to an article in The New York Times, lots of cultures around the world break up their sleeping patterns:
The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.**
We tend to be susceptible to micro sleeps around this time—that is, tiny moments where we nod off before shaking ourselves awake. This is our internal body clock saying it’s a good time to go to sleep, so if you’re planning a power nap—slot it into this part of your day! Many companies now incorporate nap pods into their work environment. Not a bad idea if you ask me.
Although everyone is different , most start out as morning people, and continue this way until around age 10. From ages 10–20 we start to sleep and wake up later and later until around 20 years old, when the pattern starts to reverse again and we start waking up earlier. Eventually, around age 55, we are going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same times we did when we were 10 years old.
So, age has a huge bearing on how our body clocks work and what our best sleep times are. You’re probably familiar with how teenagers prefer to sleep in late and go to bed late, but it turns out it’s not just teenage laziness . It has more to do with how their body clocks seem to work at that age. From age 13-21 we get up later than any other time in our lives. Teenagers are biologically predisposed to sleep and wake later than anyone else. This means they’re often struggling at important learnings tasks while at school during their least optimal times. A study of school students’ memory function in the UK actually showed that students performed 9% better on the same type of memory tests in the afternoon as they did in the morning.
Another myth, similar to teenagers’ laziness when going to sleep is the fact that we need eight hours of sleep each night. Daniel Krypke famously eliminated that myth recently with a study showing that, we don’t in fact need that amount of sleep to reach our body’s best performance.