You’re probably sleeping a lot more than you think: sleep state misperception

We often hear from chronic insomniacs statements like “I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” or “I haven’t slept at all in 4 days,” and similar.  While not diminishing their experience, it is highly unlikely for any of us to go 48 or more hours without any sleep at all.  In all probability, what’s likely going on is a misperception of sleep.

Each of us has a unique limit as to how long we can endure sleeplessness.  But we can also be assured by this simple fact:  at some point the pressure to sleep becomes irresistible and we will sleep.  We have to.  Our minds and bodies require it.

This is self-evident to most of us.  But it’s also scientifically proven that sleep is necessary for life.  In a well-known sleep experiment at the University of Chicago, rats were forced to balance on a disk suspended over water.  If they fell asleep, they fell into the water and were immediately awakened.  After about 2 weeks of this strict regimen, all the rats were dead.

The limits of human ability to stay awake vary significantly based on the individual, but we do know this:  a sustained lack of sleep is invariably fatal.  We know this because of a very rare inherited disease known as fatal familial insomnia, or FFI.  Chances are virtually nil that you have to worry about this, because only about 40 families worldwide have this exceedingly recessive gene.  But individuals who inherit it develop a brain malfunction that disrupts their ability to sleep at all.  These individuals die typically by the time they reach their 50s.  Little else is know about the exact cause of death, other than a lack of sleep.

For insomniacs, what’s far more likely — in fact almost a certainty — is a very common condition known as sleep state misperception.  This simply means we are actually asleep but don’t realize it.  To understand how this happens, it’s helpful to review how sleep unfolds in regular stages.

Stage 1 sleep is drowsiness.  In a drowsy state, we are aware of what’s going on around us to a significant degree.  For normal sleepers, it typically lasts about 5 to 10 minutes.  The eyes are closed, but if awakened a person probably would say he or she has not slept.  Drowsiness is important, necessary actually, because it sets the stage for the deeper levels of sleep.

Stage 2 is deeper than Stage 1 drowsiness and a form of true sleep.  The heart rate slows, respiration becomes slower and deeper, and body temperature decreases as it gets ready for deep sleep.  However, an external noise or disturbance would easily awaken us from this light form of sleep.  Stage 2 sleep may last 30 to 45 minutes.

Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep, sometimes called slow-wave sleep, characterized by deep slow breathing and regular continuous rhythms of brain activity.  Stage 4 shows deeper patterns than stage 3.  We are for the most part cut off from the stimulation of the external world in deep sleep, and least likely to be awakened by a noise or other disturbance at these stages.  The deep sleep stages may last around 45 minutes or so.

After stage 4 is reached, stages 3 and 2 repeat, then a period of REM or dreaming sleep is attained.  Each of these cycles lasts on average 90 to 100 minutes, and there are usually 4 to 6 these cycles each night in a normal sleeper.

If at times you are lying in bed and think you are not sleeping, yet somehow the hours seem to fly by quickly – you probably are in fact lightly sleeping in Stage 2 or even deeper.   This is a misperception of sleep.

Chances are good sleep state misperception is really what’s going on with insomniacs who complain about no sleep for days and days at a time.  But those individuals should also be assured by this:  Stage 2 sleep counts as legitimate sleep.  It is serving its purpose of helping refresh and rejuvenate you for another day.

Insomniacs often worry about sleep, and this tends to increase misperception.  By excessively focusing on time in bed awake, often frustrated and tense, insomniacs tend to discount or simply forget about time spent in bed actually asleep.   In the minds of insomniacs, worry reinforces insomnia and overwhelms the perceived benefits from even limited time sleeping.  Worried wakefulness is what’s primarily remembered from the sleep experience.  In this way, worry can be a potent negative force that feeds insomnia.

If you think you might be misperceiving sleep and want to get a better idea about how much time you are actually sleeping, you might consider investing in a an actigraph.  These are typically wristwatch-type devices, relatively inexpensive, that monitor subtle movement and can distinguish between true sleep and an awakened state.

For many of us bothered by sleeping problems, it is reassuring to know in all likelihood you really are sleeping more than you think.  If this kind of reassurance helps you to relax a bit and let go, it could help improve your ability to sleep.  For much more on using proven methods like this for better sleep, please visit us at .

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

Tags: , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

11 Comments on “You’re probably sleeping a lot more than you think: sleep state misperception”

  1. […] also may be experiencing some sleep state misperception, which is very common among insomniacs.  We tend to forget about what sleep we get, and discount […]

  2. […] even likely, that you are in fact sleeping more than you think. This phenomenon is known as sleep state misperception, and it is very common among insomniacs. Generally, it results from being hyper-aware of the time […]

  3. […] sleeping at least lightly.  This is a common occurrence among insomniacs, a phenomenon known as sleep state misperception.  So it’s likely that you  are already getting more sleep than you think you […]

  4. […] overblown, and excessively negative.  This is actually very common among insomniacs, and known as sleep state misperception.  Such misperception is probably at least part of the true problem causing your sleep […]

  5. […] reality, you probably are already getting at least some sleep, but aren’t aware of it.  Sleep state misperception is very common among insomniacs, and is often a key part of the […]

  6. […] underestimate how much sleep they are getting by an hour or more per night, a phenomenon known as sleep state misperception.  Simply put, this results from being unaware of the time spent in bed asleep, because we are, […]

  7. […] more likely explanation for what you experienced is a phenomenon known as sleep state misperception, which is very common.  Basically this means when we are lying in bed with eyes closed, in a […]

  8. […] Your reality is no doubt far different than your mistaken belief.  In fact, it’s quite common for insomniacs to significantly underestimate when and how long they actually sleep, a phenomenon known as sleep state misperception. […]

  9. […] of us experience what’s known as sleep state misperception, meaning we actually are asleep for a significant amount of time but don’t know it.  This is […]

  10. […] Sleep state misperception is rampant among insomniacs.  Studies in sleep labs consistently show insomniacs underestimate how much actual sleep they get by at least an hour or more per night.  This happens when we are in fact asleep but don’t realize it because we are, well, sleeping.  All we remember is the aggravation of tossing and turning in bed, frustrated at our inability to sleep. […]

  11. […] it would help you to know that sleep is happening, you probably just don’t realize it.  Sleep state misperception is very common.  It may not feel like it, but if you allow yourself to just rest comfortably in […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: