From the time we are babies, we are encouraged to consolidate our sleep into one big chunk - ideally 8 hours. But this hasn't always been the case. Records from the 17th century describe a different sleep pattern: two four-hour segments with an hour or two in between spent reading, meditating or socializing with bedfellows (wink, wink).
As someone who struggles with nighttime wakeups and insomnia, I was intrigued and somewhat heartened to think about this. Most people have adapted to a longer 8-hour(ish) sleep time, but those of us who haven't aren't physiological oddities, but just doing what comes naturally.
The transition from a "first" and "second sleep" to one, longer period of sleep may be tied to cities lighting their streets at night thereby extending the number of productive hours one could have outside the home. Lounging around in between these two sleep periods may have become looked upon as wasteful or lazy. Some sleep researchers believe that this restful period in between sleeps was helpful to regulate stress which is quite a contrast to the anxiety many modern insomniacs feel lying awake at night.
Read more: "The myth of the eight-hour sleep"
by Stephanie Hegarty, BBC News Magazine.
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