The Misinterpretation of a Good Eight Hours

Summary: Waking up at night and not being able to fall back asleep may be our body’s rhythms at work, not insomnia. Instead of sleeping for a full eight hours, we slept twice a night over twelve hours, with a three-hour break in between. In the break between the first and second sleep, we rested and relaxed.

In the past, we didn't sleep for a clean, restful eight hours a night. We followed the pattern of the light and the rhythm of our bodies. In fact, in feeling guilty, or ashamed of ourselves for not being able to sleep, we may be setting ourselves up for an impossible task. Impossible because the modern idea of a good night’s sleep was not ever our ancestors' ambition and not something our bodies come by naturally. Before the Industrial Revolution, we had segmented sleep, said Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech, who researched every written source available where people discussed their sleep habits.

When people woke “in the middle of the night,” they were ready to wake, and they didn't worry because they couldn't get back to sleep and so ruin tomorrow's plans. They just got up. They used the time to do the relaxing personal things that humans rarely seem to have time for today. They used the chamber pot, they stoked the fire, fed the animals, or saw to something in the kitchen. Then they went back to bed, and used the time for reading, writing, praying, meditating, talking to each other and for having sex. There was no better time to conceive a child, 16th century doctors’ advised, than to enjoy your intimacies after the night’s first sleep when your body is rested. People rarely went out of their houses during these hours; not even the rich were concerned with wasting their resources on going out at night. The dark of night was not for respectable people with better things to do.

This began to change in 1667 when Paris became the first city to light its streets, with candles in glass lamps, and over the next 50 years, other major cities in Europe followed. Lying in bed at night began to be considered a waste of time, and by the Industrial Revolution, doctors now advised parents to teach their children to be ashamed of their laziness for wanting a second sleep. Their first should be long enough. Since then, waking in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep for two or three hours has been called insomnia.

People may not have gotten nor needed our idea of a good eight hours, but they got twelve hours of resting time with eight hours of sleep within that time. Instead of relaxing through the long night, we shorten our twelve hours of rest time down to six, and call ourselves lucky if we get that much. Sleep problems have always been with us, however, even if we were not concerned. But as soon as we stressed ourselves over our wakefulness, the problems around sleep began.

Interesting enough, author Charles Dickens described a character who did not sleep at night as being very obese, snored and often fell asleep on the job during the day. Doctors since referred to it as Pickwickian Syndrome, but later we have come to recognize this condition as obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep has been something that has “plagued” us for ages. If your sleep is not restful, visit us at CPAP Solutions Inc. We make the sleep you get count towards productivity during your waking hours.

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