This is a post for all of the folks that come up to me to talk about insomnia when I am at market… A decent amount of you folks actually have nothing wrong with you (although our Nighty Night formula sure won’t hurt)… The 8 hours of *uninterrupted* sleep a night thing is a myth!
Sure, insomnia could indicate certain imbalances of a particular organ or organ-systems… But, what most people are experiencing by waking up at night are natural circadian rhythms…
I realized that segmented sleep or first sleep, second sleep was a real thing in the later part of SF years. I would wake up at 3 am like clock-work and not be able to fall back asleep for at least an hour. I became anxious about this happening and, looking back, I see how that the anxiety just made things worse. Instead of wading into that creative and therapeutic liminal space that that hour provided, I resisted it due to fear and missed my opportunities in personal and spiritual growth.
Things became clear to me that waking up was normal when I moved to the remote mountains of NC in the winter of 2009-10. I thought, for sure!, that I would finally get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep out there!
However…there…without light pollution…with no sirens…with the steady cadence of insects…I experienced segmented sleep, the most profoundly. Almost every night, I would wake up at 3 am. At first, I was anxious…but then I realized this was a great time to delve into my dream-work. I would journal my dreams and process them in the middle of the night. I began to embrace this time of night as a mystical, soul-enriching time for contemplation.
You know, I couldn’t do anything about it (smile), so I learned to surrender to what was happening.
Fortunately, right about that time…I had gone to get a massage in a town nearby. While waiting for my appointment, I picked up a book by Robert Moss (who is a dream-worker). In his introduction, he talks about about the myth of the uninterrupted 8-hour sleep and the reality of segmented sleep. I remember feeling a wave of relief wash over me. It was just a paragraph in his introduction, but it affirmed my intuition and helped me embrace my segmented sleep even more.
Since then, I’ve done a good bit of research. I’ve collected some articles and interviews on the topic that I’d like to share here:
“References to “first sleep” or “deep sleep” and “second sleep” or “morning sleep” abound in legal depositions, literature and other archival documents from pre-Industrial European times. Gradually, though, during the 19th century, “language changed and references to segmented sleep fell away,” said Ekirch. “Now people call it insomnia.”
An excerpt from Busting the 8-hour Sleep Myth.
Everybody knows an infant’s sleep schedule proceeds without regard to day or night (the technical term is polyphasic) while the sleep of a teenager is stubbornly out of sync with the working world. This should not be construed as a lifestyle choice, though: Hormones temporarily land adolescents in a time zone a few thousand miles west of their parents and teachers. Some proactive school districts are now starting high school classes a couple of hours later than usual, with reported improvements in alertness and test scores.
An excerpt from a book review on Randall’s book, “Dreamland.”
We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.
In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.
It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep….
An excerpt from this blog post on Beyond Meds about segmented sleep.