Sleep studies have shown that individuals who claim not to have slept have actually slept, often for up to four hours of the night. But their perception is that they have passed a fitful night of trying to sleep in which they slept very little if at all.
Most people have had the occasional night where they felt that they slept very little, if at all. But the research shows that in these situation we actually do sleep, and sleep more than we think.
Researchers have identified a peculiar but quite common form of sleep known as “sleep mentation.” In this state the individual enters a light state of sleep, usually about stage 2 of the sleep cycle. In sleep mentation the individual dreams that they are awake and trying to sleep.
It is common for the activity that dominated the last few hours of the day to be the subject of our first dreams of the night. If what you have been doing for the last few hours before you fall asleep is trying to fall asleep, you might well dream of trying to fall asleep when you finally fall asleep! And this, researchers tell us, is what usually happens on those nights that we feel we have not slept at all.
Sleep mentation is not limited to illusions of being asleep while awake. It also includes the so called “false awakenings” in which the individual dreams that they have awoken and begun their day, only to realise, often with surprise, that they have dreamed the beginning of their day and are still in bed.
Hence, if you feel you have had no sleep, and get up and go to work, you will often be surprised that you get through the day relatively easily. This is because you had more sleep than you thought – you spent it dreaming of trying to sleep!
If lying awake trying to sleep feels familiar, then next time it happens remind yourself that you probably are drifting in and out of stage one and stage two sleep, and that you are picking up sleep along the way. This will help you to relax, and stand more chance of falling into the deeper phases of the sleep cycle.