I love sleep, and it’s very important to me. It has both been the bane of my existence, and one of my favorite holiday activities. How something so beneficial for my mood and creativity, and can simultaneously be such a struggle, is something I will never understand.
Despite knowing that focusing too much on sleep can be counterproductive to my ability to fall asleep, it’s a topic which fascinates me. Before alarm clocks sleep must have been different, excuse me while I speculate.
Humans to to organize and improve the world around them. But as we started to “improve” forests, one of the things we did was put all trees in rows, with wide space around them, cleaning any loose leaf or twig.
Yet what we found is that, while aesthetically pleasing, those are not all optimal condition for trees to grow. And I really wonder if we’ve done the same for sleep.
Two Sleep Cycles
Roger Ekirch suggests an alternative way of sleeping, as he found described in old texts and studies. Europeans who slept 2 times a night, using the time in-between for reading, self-reflection and having sex, before falling back asleep until the morning.
Roger Ekirch, a professor of History at Virginia Tech, noticed, what to him was, an unusual way of describing sleep in older literature. Court documents, personal papers, and doctors advice, referring to a 1st and 2nd sleep.
Psychiatrist Thomas Wehr looking into this exact phenomenon in an experiment. Over a month a group of people was subjected to darkness for 14 hours every day.
And he observed that in a relatively short time, people adjust to two sleeps. Beginning with 3-4 hours of sleep, followed by wakefulness for several hours, and then sleep again until morning.
Rethinking Our Day
By changing our sleep, what happens to our productivity? Much of common day knowledge leads us to believe that we need 8 hours for sleep. We know we feel more refreshed, clear and able to tackle problems after a good night sleep.
I can imagine a world in which we can experience this clarity twice a day, if we slept twice. Taking this time between first and second sleep for thinking, reading and studying. Or to socialize or practice religious rituals or prayers.
Applicability of Two Sleeps
Sleeping two times a day in itself isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the world. In some countries, such as Spain, siestas are considered normal. In countries like Japan it’s common for workers to take quick naps on or under their desks during lunch, where sleeping in public is seen as a sign of hard work.
Naps are considered to be very beneficial according to several studies, such as one by Thomas Balkin, naps help increase focus, creativity and memory. Companies such as Google and NASA promote naps for these reasons.
Many of us may wake up several times a night, sleep can be a battle for so many. Much of the common wisdom suggest the best method for consistent sleep, is sleeping at a consistent time. But what if this isn’t as easy as it sounds, and could trying alternative patterns work?
And to bring it back around to my initial question. What if by trying to improve our sleep patterns, making it 8 hour blocks at set times every day, has given us the opposite results we were looking for?
Sleep is essential to us, but there is no definite say if one or two sleeps is better. But it appears that our bodies are capable are adjusting our sleeping pattern by itself, and it doesn’t always mean one sleep, sometimes it’s multiple.
If this says anything, I think it’s a reminder that waking up in the middle f the night, of not being able to consistently sleep, is not something to be too worried about. It appears absolutely normal. It’s frustrating obviously, but maybe there’s room for exploration into alternative ways that work for you.
- Article by Slumberwise, website SlumberWise is created and maintained by K. Alexander.
- Research from Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech, author of the book ‘Day’s Close: Night in Times Past’.
- Author Craig Koslofsky in his book ’Evening’s Empire’
- Described in an article written by David K. Randall is a senior reporter at Reuters and the author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.” https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/opinion/sunday/rethinking-sleep.html
- Opinion piece by David K. Randall from the New York Times, September 22 2012 https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/opinion/sunday/rethinking-sleep.html
The is a rework of a presentation I write in 2013 for my English 7 classes at Komvux in Norrköping.