Then they fell asleep for another four hours before waking up to begin the next day, often at daybreak or soon after. Source: iStock. Generations of people who depended on sunlight for work went to sleep when night fell, then awoke around midnight or so. They filled an hour or so with reading, prayer, visiting neighbors, or sex. In the same way an insomniac today scans Facebook or picks through their latest book of the month, the waking hours of the night were filled with activity, Ekirch found.
In the absence of light bulbs, humans surprisingly fall back into segmented sleep without much prompting. Researcher and psychiatrist Thomas Wehr found that when people are exposed to 10 hours of light instead of 16 (essentially, relying on the sun instead of electricity), they naturally start to sleep for a few hours, wake up for one to three, and fall back asleep again.
Ekirch’s book contains more than 500 historical mentions of these two sleep divisions, in works including Homer’s Odyssey and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The eight-hour block of sleep became more common. Those references faded by the late 1800s, though, and by 1920 were almost compley obsolete. “It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch told BBC.
But if you’re waking up occasionally and can’t get back to sleep, read a book. If you’re lucky enough that your tossing also woke your partner, experiment a little with mid-night sex. If you’re not typically an insomniac, chances are you’ll be ready to go back to sleep in an hour or so. Don’t get us wrong — sleep disorders are a very real thing, and in many cases do require the guidance of a professional. Some people claim their most creative hours are still sometime in the middle of the night. And don’t worry about that lost shut-eye — generations before you didn’t just survive with a sleep break, they organized their lives around it.
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When rolling over or counting livestock doesn’t work, slight anxiety can turn into full-fledged worry — worry that spills over to every issue in your life that’s now contributing to your insomnia. Waking up in the middle of the night can be a stressor for even the most laid-back people. Your mind starts wandering, thinking of how tired you’ll be in the morning if you can’t get some more decent shut-eye.
In the 1980s and 1990s, history professor Roger Ekirch started to notice references of unique sleep patterns in his collection of texts. In fact, up until the 1900s, there were other schools of thought about what rest looked like. The eight-hour block of uninterrupted slumber is a convention of modern times. Ekirch later went on to write a book called At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past that described how sleep patterns used to be four hours at a time, with a one- or two-hour break in between the first and second segments. “First sleep” and “second sleep” were common occurrences, and it served as a signal that sleep used to happen in distinct chunks.
And if you complain to your doctor, you’ll likely walk away with a slip for Ambien or an equivalent. In today’s culture, sleeping through the whole night is considered to be healthy. Waking up in the dead of night is not. We worship the eight-hour sleep cycle, and much of our lives function on the idea of an uninterrupted chunk of rest. Finding another two hours to wake up in the middle probably isn’t possible, especially with our bodies’ adaptations to modern things like light bulbs and our culture’s rigid 9 to 5 schedules.
But just because you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing. Several studies show that the definition of “a good night’s sleep” is compley dependent upon what century you lived in, and look very different from our current standard of one eight-hour block. In fact, waking up for an hour (or even a few) used to be common, and was viewed as natural, not a problem. Worry and stress are definiy the world’s best anti-sleeping drugs.
Ekirch and other scholars attribute the shift to electricity. Before street lamps and light bulbs were common, night was often associated with crime, fear, and other not-so-wonderful things. As artificial light became a staple in every household, people began staying up later, thus squeezing out the time for the waking hours in the middle of the night.Ambien only sleep 4 hours