Sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme, doesn’t it?
Okay, back on topic.
According to an in-depth study by Roger Ekirch, an historian at Virgina Tech, first sleeps and second sleeps used to be quite common prior to (and even into) the 1800’s. Before artificial lighting became widespread at any rate. The technical name for it is segmented sleep.
What does that mean?
Simply that our ancestors would go to bed, wake up after three or four hours, spend a few hours in various activities (reading, writing, praying, visiting with neighbors, smoking, having sex, or any number of other things). After a time, they’d go back to bed for their second sleep, which lasted another three or four hours.
As with any controversial subject, there are two trains of thought here. Modern doctors stand firmly on the ‘eight hours a night’ side of the fence, while those who disagree – including sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs – believe it’s wired into us to have broken sleep patterns. He is quoted in a BBC News Magazine article as saying: “For most of evolution, we slept a certain way. Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology.”
For those of you who have followed me for any length of time, it’s no secret that I am plagued by insomnia. All. The. Time. As in ninety-nine out of a hundred nights. Maybe more, after bringing the puppies home last month…
Last year, I started researching how to get rid of the problem. Instead, I stumbled onto article after article on segmented sleep. Given that I was having zero success in trying to sleep like the majority of of the population, I figured what the heck. Might as well start taking naps.
And so I did. Off and on. Until it got to the point where I was so exhausted I could barely function. And then I gave in and went with it. How’s that working out for me, you might ask?
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing the two sleeps. The first lasts from three to four hours (sometimes five, if I’m lucky), and then I get up. I’m still pretty tired, but a few hours later, I lie back down and sleep for another two to three hours.
Amazingly enough, when I get up after the ‘second sleep,’ I feel a lot better. Not bouncing off the walls better, but enough so that I’m getting a lot more done, especially in the writing area.
Maybe it’s a writer thing. After reading an article by author Karen Emslie (updated link 11/3/22), I believe that it could be. She keeps a segmented schedule and does much of her writing during the period between her first and second sleeps. After reading her story, it occurred to me that this could be what I’ve been searching for as I desperately tried to cure the endless nights of lying awake. In fact, it could be perfect for me.
And so far, it’s proving to be exactly that. I imagine it’s going to take a while before I catch up on all the sleep I’ve missed for oh, the past several years, but right now, I couldn’t be more pleased with my productivity.
Now if I could just switch it around so the first sleep doesn’t start around noon… Then again, maybe that’s perfect for me too since my creative side tends to be more – creative – in the middle of the night.
Am I the only person who sleeps this way? If not, do you find that segmented sleep makes you feel better?
This is the song Kelian sings to Brody in Brody’s Banshee. Not that you can hear it in a story, but it’s the one I hear when I read it.