It is not normal for humans to sleep a full eight hours a night without any interruption. Author Jesse Barron described in a New York Times article that he accidentally fell into a pattern of “segmented sleep” that was used as sleep until the 19th century. A common standard, nothing more ordinary. This mode is: go to bed at about 9-10 o’clock every night, sleep for 3 to 4.5 hours, wake up for about an hour at midnight, and then go to sleep again, the length of which is also about 3 to 4.5 hours, and so on The cycle goes on and on until dawn breaks and the morning light dims. But with the invention of artificial light, this sleeping pattern gradually faded away from the stage of history. Becoming humanity’s forgotten sleep patterns.
In 1992, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr said that when people are exposed to darkness for 14 hours a day for a month, they naturally develop the habit of segmented sleep. In 2001, Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech, also said that this sleeping pattern was the norm for people in past generations. He also pointed to legal and medical documents related to primary sleep and secondary sleep. and similar concepts that appear in literary works such as Homer, Chaucer, Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy.
“Basically every great writer has mentioned segmented sleep,” Ekirch said in an interview. These writers come from different countries in Europe, which means that there is a shadow of segmented sleep in every language in Europe.
While we may still feel complacent about our modern uninterrupted sleep patterns, we have lost the pleasure of enjoying that wonderful hour in the middle of the night and the space to be awake and alone with our thoughts in the dead of night.
Ekirch said: “I think we have missed the opportunity to have an intimate relationship with ourselves, and it is also a loss of personal privacy. At the same time, we have also lost the opportunity to examine ourselves and reflect on ourselves. We have abandoned the traditional sense of The boulevard leading to one’s own dreams also ignores the existence of the human subconscious.”
What centuries ago was known to the people of that time as a “vigil” was once applicable to all forms of activity. At that time, there were prayers specially set up for “night vigils” because several religious beliefs at that time regarded midnight as “the most suitable and sacred time to communicate with the gods.” Ekirch said. It’s also the perfect time to reflect on vivid dreams and meditate in bed.
Taken together, Ekirch theorizes that we now have a weaker connection to our dreams because we no longer have the time to be awake between sleeps. He said that as segmented sleep gradually disappears from people’s lives, dreams seem more bizarre and absurd, rather than a conscious guidance, and the logical connection between the two is not just a “coincidence”. It makes sense.
The overall uninterrupted nature of sleep can be a factor in our stress levels, as it deprives us of time to be alone and calm. “I think this is common sense,” Ekirch said. “In a private dark environment, reflect on what happened on this day; and make predictions and plans for the next day’s work and activities.”
However, the success of segmented sleep should help reduce anxiety for those who suffer from insomnia in the middle of the night. Ekirch said many people who wake up in the dead of night and go back to sleep an hour or two later are relieved to hear that nothing is wrong with their bodies. After all, he adds, from a historical perspective, their segmented sleep was more natural and more reasonable than the youthful, modern, artificial sleep we crave.