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The Changing Face of Sleep

September 26, 2013

[Part 2 in a 2 Part Series]

In our previous blog post titled “How We Sleep Has Changed Over The Past 200 Years" we mentioned that two sleeps per night may have been the preferred sleeping pattern of antiquity. However, there still seem to be tendencies towards it that linger in modern man. This suggests that there is a biological preference for two sleeps under the right circumstances...

National Institutes of Mental Health Studies

During the first part of the 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr of National Institutes of Mental Health was asked to conduct a study on photoperiodicity (also known as the exposure to light), and how it affects sleep patterns. In this study, fifteen men spent four weeks with their daylight artificially restricted. The results were rather startling!

At first the participants slept for long stretches of time, most likely because they needed to make up their “sleep debt” that’s common among modern man. Once they had caught up on their sleep however, a strange thing started to happen - They started to have 2 sleeps!

Over a twelve hour period, the participants all started sleeping for about four or five hours, then they would wake for several hours, followed by another sleep until morning. Altogether however, they never slept not more than eight hours total.

The middle hours of the night, between two sleeps, was also found to be a strangely serene time for all of the participants and was characterized by unusual calmness and an almost meditative state. 

Should We Revive Two Sleeps?

Although history shows that the idea of two sleeps was common up to about 200 years ago, and even though science indicates that it is under certain conditions a completely natural way of sleeping, there is no proof that it is better. Enjoying two sleeps a night may leave you feeling more rested, but it is thought that this has more to do with the increased time that is needed to relax over the 2 sleep period. If we gave the modern 1 (eight hour) sleep the same amount of relaxing time as well, it would still be just as effective as the split sleep pattern.

As a side note! The two sleeps a night pattern needs a lot of darkness, darkness that is only possible during the winter months of Europe and America. This means that the greater levels of daylight during summer (and those found in South Africa throughout the year) would make the two sleeping pattern difficult to maintain and in some cases even impossible.

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