Insomnia or Natural Biorhythms?

Dreamworld Art by Jacek Yerka

Dreamworld Art by Jacek Yerka

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.

Here’s an NPR interview with David Randall, the author of “Dreamland,” on the science of sleep.

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.

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One thought on “Insomnia or Natural Biorhythms?

  1. Reblogged this on Madhupa Maypop and commented:
    I just posted this on my apothecary website and had to share here! I often hear about insomnia from clients, so this post serves to debunk some myths about sleep!

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