I'm a bimodal or segmented sleeper. I have been since I was a child. Being brought up in Rhodesia, this to me was normal but on moving here as a
young teen, no naps and 8hrs a night was an utter nightmare for me. Now I discover it is in fact very normal ! I sleep for 2-3hrs late afternoon get
up around 7pm do all my jobs chill out a bit then go back to sleep around midnight - 1am sometimes later depending on what I have to do the next day.,
when I will sleep for probably 4hrs. I can't even remember the last time I slept a full night as others do. I used to pop into my childrens' rooms
and watch them sleep soundly and be so jealous of their uninterrupted sleep
When I have my first sleep, when I wake up I do so without being woken
by an alarm, my body just wakes and what's more I'm WIDE awake i.e. no yawning or stretching etc and it doesn't take me a couple of hours to "come
around" (unlike my son who takes at least an hour to be coherent lol). People have found it pretty amazing that I am immediately awake and not
stumbling and yawning around!
Now throughout my life I've been called lazy, accused of "burning the candle at both ends", told I need more exercise, vitamins, better food blah
blah and believe me over the years I've tried everything to change this pattern. If I don't
have my 1st sleep, then its guaranteed I won't
sleep until 3 or 4am as I will have "got past it" and then feel dreadful for the rest of the day. I used to feel so guilty about this and it really
has interfered with my life particularly my social and working life, so I became self employed
Now whilst my sleeping pattern may not follow the medieval biphasic pattern perfectly, i.e. 2 four hour sleeps with a waking phase in between, the 1st
sleep I do have is probably the deepest and I'm actually fast asleep in minutes, whereas at night trying to sleep normally I will toss and turn until
4-5am restless, head not switching off and eventually restless leg syndrome. Then when I wake in the morning I feel like I have a horrendous hangover.
Two sleeps for me and I'm buzzing!! I have been known to re-arrange furniture, decorate and bake when in my waking stage, much to the annoyance of
partners and my children, who come downstairs and stumble into coffee tables that weren't there when they went to bed! My energy levels are much much
higher and I have no trouble doing a full day's work, that is, until it gets to around 4-5pm then my body switches off and my eyes start to close and
there's nothing whatsoever I can do about it. My gp said I was narcoleptic...I believe this is inaccurate and its just my rhythm and fighting it
simply doesn't work at all.
However, I have learnt that this method of sleep is actually the more natural form and prior to the 17th century approx, people regularly slept in 2
phases of around 4hrs each with a waking time in between. So accepted was this form of sleep that there were prayers written for the "wake time" for
those that wished to meditate, people used this time to have sex with their partners, visit neighbours or do housework. A doctors manual found in
France in the 16th century stated that the best time for couples to conceive was after the "first sleep". People used their awake time to talk to
their partners, study or meditate on dreams or just simply relax. They didn't stress about being awake that would have seemed ridiculous to our
ancestors. The awake time was viewed as good and said to put people in touch with their spiritual selves. It was only when the nobility spread
throughout Europe and brought with them changes in society that people started sleeping in one shift through the night as only "peasants" slept
bimodal. This segemented sleeping appears from research to only occur in Europe and if you think about it, certainly along the mediterranean it still
does, with many taking afternoon siestas when the sun is at its highest. Shops close and places are deserted until around 6-7pm when they open again
until 10 or 11pm
Strangely, the emergence of insomnia also seems to have occurred when biphasic sleep patterns were changed, with researchers finding references in
various books & novels for the first time in the 19th Century. This middle of the night insomnia (when people wake and can't get back to sleep) is
more than likely a throwback to the earlier sleeping patterns of our ancestors and our bodies fighting the "new" way of sleeping, and in fact was
not even considered worthy of mentioning by medics of the day as it was accepted as being normal.
The industrial revolution seems to have been the pre cursor for the 8hr sleep rule, with the development of artificial lighting and factory jobs. The
biphasal sleeping pattern was forced into a shift so that workers could work a full day in the factories which were quite often very long hours, and
then when they got home despite the dark nights of winter, electric or gas lighting "tricked" their body clocks into staying awake and disrupted
people's sense of time. Street lighting also changed sleep, as did the first coffee houses. Whereas prior to the 19th Century the night was
considered a "dark and mournful place full of reprobates and whores" not to mention the various supernatural beliefs throughout Europe, once street
lighting was invented, the night became illuminated, people stayed out longer, hung around in coffee houses and up market taverns and the night became
fashionable and the habit of "promenading" started (where the wealthy paraded in their best clothes particularly their single daughters)
"He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object,
beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream." Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge (1840)
"And at the wakening of your first sleepe You shall have a hott drinke made, And at the wakening of your next sleepe Your sorrowes will have a
slake." Early English ballad, Old Robin of Portingale
So...contrary to the now popular belief that 8hrs is best, there is in fact no actual medical evidence to support this and it has become apparent
through research that this unbroken sleep pattern could be more detrimental to health both physical and psychological, as is evidence by the emergence
of insomnia and other sleep related illnesses/effects.
Now...could there be another form of sleep pattern emerging with the dependency on technology? It is thought that due to the sheer amount of time many
children spend on social media/phones/ipads not daring to switch off in case they missed some important facebook update lol that these children are
going to sleep later and later and will in fact wake up over and over again throughout the night if there is a notification ping on their phone.
Also see A Roger Ekirch "At day's close: A History of Nighttime"