A good night’s sleep brings about many health benefits, including mind and body regeneration. However, sound sleep is not always easy to drift into as sleep can often be interrupted by some kind of sleep disorder or another health issue such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
But, according to a new theory, sleep may not be an all-night thing at all. The theory of ‘segmented sleep’ was introduced by Virginia Tech historian Roger Ekirch, who spent 16 years researching segmented sleep only to discover significant evidence which shows that earlier generations had a first sleep just after dusk, followed by an hour or two of being awake, time often spent in a relaxed state of prayer or meditation. Then it was back to bed for a second sleep that lasted until morning. Often coinciding with midnight, when the brain produces prolactin, the hormone that stimulates the feeling of relaxation, the period between the two sleeps, was found to be the most relaxing.
‘Modern day sleeping problems are connected to the natural preferences for segmented sleep in the human body,’Ekirch believes.
According to him, our ancestral sleeping patterns, dating as far back as 15th century, are the main reason why some people are affected with ‘sleep maintenance insomnia,’ a condition that makes them wake up in the middle of the night not being able to go back to sleep.
Other scholars, including psychologist Greg Jacobs, also claim that segmented sleep is part of the normal human psychology. It is the idea of uninterrupted sleep that’s been embedded into our brains that causes anxiety in people. This anxiety in turns inhibits going back to sleep.
Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford, also maintains that the reason why many people wake up at night is just an ancestral throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.
Still, many doctors can’t accept that the uninterrupted 8-hour sleep may be unnatural to humans despite the fact that one in three health issues which doctors deal with are directly or indirectly caused by sleep. This aspect, however, has been overlooked by traditional medicine. There are only few centers where sleep is studied.
Our natural biorhythms are governed by exposure to light and darkness, which also dates back to our ancestors who scheduled their day around the rise and setting of the sun.