The Myth of the 8 Hour Sleep

medieval sleepEight hours of continuous sleep is a modern and artificial rest pattern. Some people are fortunate to have adapted to it fairly well, but for many of us, our bodies remember a different time.

Night used to be longer. Before electric light and Facebook, people went to bed earlier. Our ancestors didn’t need to condense sleep into an efficient eight hour bundle, so they enjoyed segmented sleep, or divided sleep.

Segmented sleep consisted of four hours of first sleep, then two hours of wakefulness, and then four hours of second sleep. The wakefulness period was an interesting time spent in prayer, conversation, contemplation, and sex. It was even recommended as the best time to conceive a child.

Studies of segmented sleep have detected a unique hormonal event that occur during the night-time wakefulness period. It’s a surge in the pituitary hormone prolactin, and it may improve our ability to adapt to stress.

Don’t Panic If You Wake At Night

In modern times, we have condensed the two sleep periods, and eliminated the night-time meditative state.  Condensed, continuous sleep is more time-efficient, and even if it’s not ideal for health, it’s probably good enough for most people.

Unfortunately, eight continuous hours is not always easy to do. Insomniacs can feel a lot of pressure and distress at the inability to rest in this condensed way. If you find you cannot always sleep on command, then give yourself a break. It may simply mean that you are failing to contort your physiology into a modern-day trick that is not for everyone. According to sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs:

Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology.

There are other ways to rest. If you cannot sleep eight continuous hours, then spread it out. Consider a daytime siesta, and  try spending more hours in bed to allow for a little natural, beneficial night-time wakefulness.

Read more about ways to enhance sleep in my Hormonal Sleep post.

Yours in Health,

Lara Briden

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