For much of my adult life, I’ve had trouble sleeping throughout the night, often waking up in the early morning hours, unable to go back to sleep. On weekends or on vacation, I’ve simply gotten up, drank and/or ate something, maybe read a little bit, and then eventually gone back to sleep, knowing that I had the extra time to sleep in, but often wishing I was able to do it in my regular schedule, or bemoaning my body’s weird sleep cycle.
Well, turns out I may be more normal than I thought: BBC News – The myth of the eight-hour sleep.
We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.
…In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.
…Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.
“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.
During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.
And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.
Of course, the drawback is that to have these two sleep periods, you’d have to go to bed earlier, or get up later in the morning, and our society isn’t exactly structured for that. It’d be interesting if it was though. There might be a prime time TV period between midnight and 2am to entertain people during their intermediate wake period.
This also reminds me of the seista, the afternoon nap, that many cultures allow and encourage, particularly ones where the afternoon heat makes it too uncomfortable to do much of anything but nap. It seems there are multiple alternatives to the eight hour sleep.