I have read some of the reports in mainstream media on the recent sleep studies, finding a connection between lack of sleep and a wide range of medical problems and even mortality.
It is important research, especially since lack of sleep is chronic for many today.
But the studies, at least as reported, also leave out some even more interesting questions.
For instance, is the lack of sleep perceived as voluntary or not and what happens in either case? I can imagine that if it is perceived as involuntary, it can easily have detrimental effects in many areas. But if it is perceived as voluntary – as it was for me two days ago when I stayed up the whole night working on something I had a real interest in – it may be quite different. Maybe the lack of sleep itself is less important than how we perceive it. The stress we sometimes put on top of it may be as important as anything else.
There are also individual differences in our need for sleep. One study found that less than seven hours of sleep, on average, is associated with a range of health problems, but the individual differences were left out from the news reports. For some, five hours may be plenty. For others, nine hours may be necessary. And this changes over time too, with age and life circumstances.
And then the question of correlation and causality, which some news reports actually did include. There may be a correlation between too little/much sleep and health problems, but the causality within that correlation is maybe not so clear yet. Most likely, it varies a great deal from situation to situation.
There may be something going on which leads to lack of sleep in the short term and other health problems later on, such as overwork and stress. We may chose to get less sleep just to get more out of our days, and the lack of sleep alone can lead to health problems. There could be a hidden health problem which first gives insomnia and then manifests in other ways. There is probably a great variety of different connections, each showing up in different situations.
Another aspect which would be interesting to look at is how we process our dream world in daily life. For those of us who don’t process our dream world much in daily life, for whatever reason, a good night’s sleep with plenty of night dreaming may be more necessary. But if it is processed more actively in daily life – through art, music, dream work, a meditation practice, active imagination, process work, shamanic journeying or even daydreaming – we may get by with significantly less sleep and night dreaming.
And then other questions, such as taking a nap. For me, taking a nap during the day has a very noticeable benefit all around, and it is probably not so different for others. It helps reduce stress and catch up on our sleep, which should have noticeable effects on our body-mind health and well-being.