Recent research has confirmed that there is no 'magic number'
when it comes to sleep for adults, which means that the eight-hour
rule may be a complete myth.
The BBC have recently reviewed several decades of research and
concluded that interrupted and disrupted sleep patterns are far
more natural than the common myth of 'solid sleep' patterns.
In the early 1990s, a study was conducted to establish the most
natural sleep patterns. Psychiatrist Thomas Wehr created test
conditions that he deemed suitable for sleep by plunging his
subjects into darkness for 14 hours each day for a month. The
results showed distinct sleeping patterns to emerge after around
three weeks, finding that the night was spent sleeping first for
four hours, then waking for one or two hours before falling into a
second four-hour sleep.
Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech collected records that
supported this theory, finding a vast amount of historical evidence
that suggests humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. Diaries,
court records, medical books and literature from around the world
all suggested that many people engaged in activities during the
night, such as smoking or taking a walk.
According to the historian, waking and then going back to sleep
was "common knowledge", and active periods during the night were
very common. Some people even visited neighbours, although many
would stay in bed and read, wrote and often prayed.
Miguel Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in 1615, saying: "Don Quixote
followed nature, and being satisfied with his first sleep, did not
solicit more. As for Sancho, he never wanted a second, for the
first lasted him from night to morning."
However, by the start of the 1920s this idea of segmented sleep
had almost entirely eroded from social consciousness. Improvements
in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses
which could be open all night meant that the night became a place
for legitimate activity.
Stephanie Hegarty of the BBC reflected: "Night became fashionable
and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time."
The Industrial Revolution intensified time consciousness, and this
became exacerbated throughout the 20th century, as people looked to
cram more activities into an extended day.
Although many people have adjusted to the eight-hour sleep
pattern, researchers such as Ekirch believe that sleeping problems
may have roots in the human body's natural preference for segmented
sleep. This condition is commonly known as sleep maintenance
insomnia, where people find it difficult to get back to sleep when
awoken in the night.
This condition could also be rooted in the intense requirements of
sleep in the modern age, making people feel anxious about not being
rested enough. Sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs says: "Many people
wake up at night and panic.
"I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the
bi-modal sleep pattern."
However, many doctors and certainly many people find this bi-modal
sleep pattern unnatural. This can create a difficult compromise on
rest and relaxation times through the night, which become periods
of stress rather than stress-free periods.
"Today we spend less time doing those things," says Dr Jacobs.
"It's not a coincidence that, in modern life, the number of people
who report anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse
has gone up."
The downfall of the 'sleep break' during the night may in fact be
a reflection of the stress-filled requirements of modern society
and the restructuring of sleep in our lives. Sleep is now more of a
chore than a time to relax, which can lead to implications on daily
In American parlance this evolutionary study reflects the
importance of 'down time' during the day. Whether that be an hour
relaxing in the night, or an hour before you go to sleep, getting
enough down time will always be crucial for your body's
Posted by Elizabeth Mewes