You know the routine: you wake up in the morning, work all day, and get to bed hours after the sun goes down. Some nights you toss and turn to get to sleep, and some mornings you wake up groggy and exhausted. But a new study has revealed that there is a better method to maintain energy all day and feel well-rested, and it hasn’t been used for centuries.
Every doctor will recommend 8 hours of sleep per night, but studies have revealed that the way we sleep is all wrong. Some psychiatrists have inferred that modern humans are chronically sleep-deprived. This sleep deprivation may be why we usually take up to 20 minutes to fall asleep, and why we try our best not to wake up in the night. To put it simply, we’re not getting enough downtime.
In 1992, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr plunged a group of people into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month during an experiment. Darkness was a reality for humans before the luxury of electricity and light bulbs.
It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week, the subjects had settled into a distinct sleeping pattern. The subjects slept for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour slumber.
The History of Sleeping in Two’s
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In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech revealed a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two separate portions. Ekirch unearthed over 500 indications of a segmented sleeping pattern in memoirs, court archives, and medical literature.
Through the 17th century, up until the 1920’s, people divided their sleep into two four-hour segments. Scientists call this biphasic sleep (as in, two phases of sleep). The invention of street lights, domestic electricity and a surge in coffee consumption are the three most important reasons Ekirch attributes the recession of biphasic sleep.
Productivity and sleep are very closely related. Two phases of rest have been showed to increase mindfulness, calmness, and productivity. Other countries from Mexico to Thailand use biphasic sleeping as a common practice, but they will usually call it siesta; a short afternoon rest, usually after a big meal.
The Benefits of Biphasic Sleeping
Prolactin, a hormone that reduces stress and anxiety was released during the one hour of wakefulness between resting periods. Over one-third of Americans wake up at night, and if you are one of them, allowing yourself to read, meditate or even work could reduce stress and keep you well rested.
The important part of biphasic sleeping, however, is an early night. Unlike Thomas Wehr’s study, you will have access to electricity after the sun goes down, and with our phones, TVs, and laptops, it’s very easy to stay up until the eleventh hour.
Get into a regular sleeping pattern of putting down your work or switching off the television when the sun goes down. If you find yourself awake between 2 am and 4 am, one psychologist recommends that “little days” will help you get back to sleep and wake up rejuvenated and energized.
Polyphasic sleep, which can be more closely related to insomnia, occurs when there are more than two phases of sleep, which can result in the lack of sleep and can be harmful. However, with biphasic sleep, many people have reported that resting in two segments helps with their insomnia.
Clinical psychiatrists are finding that if they can make their insomnia patients stop regarding their sleep as problematic, their condition improves. “If they perceive interrupted sleep as normal, they experience less distress when they wake at night, and fall back to sleep more easily.”
Doctors also recommend napping, not just for children and toddlers, but for adults, too. Don’t buy into the stigma that you’re lazy if you take short rests during the day; a nap lasting anywhere from half an hour to two hours is far healthier than a caffeinated energy drink or a sugary pick-me-up.
A good sleep is one of the most important components of health, and we often read about the best tips and tricks to make your sleep deeper. But before you invest in medication or drinking more coffee, try spacing out your sleep instead. For more great tips on improving your slumber, click here!
- Wehr, T. A. (1992). In short photoperiods, human sleep is biphasic. Journal of Sleep Research, 1(2), 103-107. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.1992.tb00019.x
- Ekirch, R. A. (2005). At day’s close: Night in times past. New York: Norton.
- Borbély, A. A., & Achermann, P. (1992). Concepts and models of sleep regulation: An overview. Journal of Sleep Research, 1(2), 63-79. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.1992.tb00013.x
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