All of us have had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night. It’s often unclear why we wake up ... it just happens. If it becomes a regular occurrence, we might be in a state of anxiety about falling back to sleep because recently it’s been drummed into our heads that we need eight straight hours of sleep in order to stay healthy and alert throughout the day.
Could this assertion be wrong?
A recent article in Collective Evolution reveals that our cultural perceptions of a “good night’s rest” have shifted dramatically throughout the centuries. Quite a bit of historical and scientific evidence suggests that humans are meant to sleep in two separate stints throughout the night.
In the early ‘90s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr’s research supported this theory. He conducted an experiment where participants were kept in complete darkness for 14 hours a day for an entire month. It might sound extreme but what he discovered was worth noting. An article in BBC explains,
It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.”
Regardless of this finding, most experts remained unconvinced. Then in 2001, historian Roger Ekirch published a paper containing 16 years of research in which he cited more than 500 historical references regarding segmented sleep patterns.
Throughout much of history our natural sleep patterns were such that we slept for approximately four hours, woke for one to two hours in the middle of the night, and then slept again until dawn. His studies suggested that waking intervals in the 1500s and before were mostly spent praying, writing, or pondering dreams. It wasn’t until the invention of street lamps in Paris during the 1600s, followed by the industrial revolution, that our priorities shifted, making efficiency and time-consciousness more important … and thereby changing our sleep patterns.
Ekirch believed that his findings pointed to the fact that many of our modern day sleep issues such as “sleep maintenance insomnia” (or waking in the middle of the night) may in fact stem from our insistence on sleeping straight through the night.
Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You- Are We Doing It Wrong? Via Collective Evolution
The Myth of the Eight Hour Sleep via BBC