I don’t sleep well quite often. I try so hard to sleep a full 8 hours straight. If I wake up after only a few hours I stubbornly cling to my pillow. I expend more energy trying to get good sleep than sleeping naturally. The truth is I feel better sleeping only 3-6 hours at a time, twice a day. But I’ve always considered that sort of shameful, a “couldn’t sleep so I need a nap” type of occurrence. Yet an article on BBC News suggests that might actually be the healthy, natural way to rest:
[Roger Ekirch's] book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.
Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.
“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.
During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.
And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.
I find this concept fascinating. While still suggesting we need approximately 8 hours of sleep, the idea that we aren’t meant to have it all at once is a revelation to me. I certainly plan to experiment with my sleep schedule to see if segmented sleep results in better rest and more energy.
What really fascinates me about this is the idea of being awake in the middle of the night being a normal thing. Instead of being an interruption it is a time for solitude, meditation and prayer. We all know the middle of the night is considered magical. It’s a bewitching idea to have this space between sleep to devote to spiritual aims.
Really, the only downside to this is the fact that we don’t have a lot of time nowadays. Every moment of our life is jam-packed, and dividing our sleep to make room for that magical hour or two. Finding time for quiet. Time to read. Time to write. Time to speak quietly to your partner, or time to make love when you aren’t tired or rushed. Time to meditate or pray when the world is quiet and not demanding your attention.
I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to try segmented sleep. And I’m going to dedicate that “midnight hour” to the pursuits I never seem to have time or quiet for: meditation, prayer, reflection.
I’ll let you know how it goes. Maybe what I need to be a better me is to not get a straight 8 hours of sleep a night.