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The Myth of the eight-hour sleep

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posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 02:44 PM
So is it natural that we sleep for 8 hours straight each night? Is the lesson we've all been taught as kids actually natural human behavior? Or is sleeping 8 hours straight a relatively new habbit of our race? I've tried to flesh out the article the best I can. BBC-The Myth of the eight-hour sleep

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 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

Much like the experience of Wehr's subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society.

Night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time. "People were becoming increasingly time-conscious and sensitive to efficiency, certainly before the 19th Century," says Roger Ekirch. "But the industrial revolution intensified that attitude by leaps and bounds."

Strong evidence of this shifting attitude is contained in a medical journal from 1829 which urged parents to force their children out of a pattern of first and second sleep.

Now here is the good bit- Is sleeping in these 8 hour chunks actually a good thing? Or is it a relatively new habit possibly linking to some of the sleep issues prevalent in modern society?

Today, most people seem to have adapted quite well to the eight-hour sleep, but Ekirch believes many sleeping problems may have roots in the human body's natural preference for segmented sleep as well as the ubiquity of artificial light. This could be the root of a condition called sleep maintenance insomnia, where people wake during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, he suggests. The condition first appears in literature at the end of the 19th Century, at the same time as accounts of segmented sleep disappear.

The idea that we must sleep in a consolidated block could be damaging, he says, if it makes people who wake up at night anxious, as this anxiety can itself prohibit sleeps and is likely to seep into waking life too.

"Over 30% of the medical problems that doctors are faced with stem directly or indirectly from sleep. But sleep has been ignored in medical training and there are very few centres where sleep is studied," he says. Jacobs suggests that the waking period between sleeps, when people were forced into periods of rest and relaxation, could have played an important part in the human capacity to regulate stress naturally.

I like this-

In many historic accounts, Ekirch found that people used the time to meditate on their dreams. "Today we spend less time doing those things," says Dr Jacobs. "It's not a coincidence that, in modern life, the number of people who report anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse has gone up." So the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, think of your pre-industrial ancestors and relax. Lying awake could be good for you.

So, if you wake up in the night, use the time to just chill, you probably need it
And for those of you more 'spiritually' minded, take note that Robert Monroe, (see Journeys out of Body) used to sleep for a few hours, stay awake for an hour, then get back to sleep in order to make outer body experiences easier. He said the body would be relaxed, while the mind was rested enough to want to explore.

edit on 5-3-2012 by el1jah because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:22 PM
No replies- Ok I'll continue the conversation

Notice that the 8 hour slot for sleep came in around the time working 9-5 became popular, am I wrong to say so.

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:27 PM
Interesting. I am one of those poor souls inflicted with insomnia. I have never had a normal sleep cycle no matter how hard I try. It wasn't all that bad being up for days at a time when I was younger, but it sure takes it's toll as I get older.

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:34 PM
reply to post by TKDRL

Im sorry to hear that I know sleep deprivation can take a real toll on the body and mind. have you ever looked into meditation? It may seem a random thing to mention but from my own experience meditation can potentially replace the need for sleeping long hours, and also relaxes you enough to sleep deeper.

I know I have an off schedule and I can't seem to fix it, I sleep from 4am to 11am pretty regularly, I can't help it it's always been that way unless I was working a full time labor intensive job ( I used to work construction). I am an artist now so my schedule is not to damaging.

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:42 PM
I would say it was the change from feudalism to capitalism during the 17th century that changed our sleep patterns.

Capitalism put people into factories and mills working long hours with no breaks. Before capitalism people were more autonomous and worked when they needed to, not when they were told to.

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:42 PM
reply to post by TKDRL

Ahha tell me about it. Got to sleep at about 10pm last night, managed about 4 hours in between tossing and turning, thought screw it for the night, got up and spent half an hour on the exercise bike at 4:30am. Insomnia, ain't it fun!!

I agree with the part in the OP, OP, where he states that sleeping in smaller blocks can help achieve an OBE. I've done that, always after a long time awake however, and then sleeping in segments. I tend to either enter hypanogogic paralysys or lucid dreaming / OBE. I am certain the two are separate (LD / OBE) as I recall exactly somewhere I'd not seen before and verified it was as it was.... that was so many years ago, but amazing none the less.

I average about 4-5 hours of heavily interrupted sleep each night. 8 hours? I just cannot imagine being out of it for that long, even with OTC sleep aids, it's impossible for me.

I can stay up for 2-3 or more days and still only sleep 4-5 hours.. and as you say the older we get, that's just not so much an option anymore..

I dunno what it is these days, everything feels like it's buzzing... I can't remember when everything "felt" quiet...

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:42 PM
Nice thread. Its called Polyphasic Sleep.

Link to Wiki:

Polyphasic Sleep

Link to the greats that slept less and accomplished more:

Sleep of the great minds

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:43 PM
You're absolutely right. A person probably should get 8 hours of sleep a day, but cramming them all in at one stretch is unnatural. Like drinking 8 glasses of water a day. You probably should, but don't try to do it all at once.

I find that sleeping 3 to 4 hours at a time works for me. The problem, as you noted, comes in when people are forced to work 8 or more hours a day, which is also unnatural, particularly if those hours are late night/early morning. Worse yet are those jobs that run rotating shifts which significantly interfere with the body's natural rhythms and cause physical and emotional complications.
edit on 5-3-2012 by N3k9Ni because: typo

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 03:54 PM
reply to post by mainidh

Have you ever gone to a sleep clinic? My brother in law and his mother both suffer from interrupted sleep patterns. His mom was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea while he seems to suffer from being unable to actually relax his mind. He wakes up thinking all the time.

On the subject of OBE's, it definately helps waking up for a while then going to sleep, I dont do this very often but when I do I usually dream more vividly. I have only had 2 fully controlled OBE's and they were a year apart and they came on without intention. Both happened in the early morning.

I generally sleep like a baby- dont know why I just don't go to bed until I am tired. Not having to be awake at a specific time makes this easier. I found when I was working a steady job, the stress of not fallng alseep made relaxing very difficult, and I usually woke up feeling drained.

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 04:54 PM
This is absolutely fascinating. It explains so much. I went off reading about this after you posted the OP. Apparently, sleep disorders appeared in the 19th century at the same time when segmented sleep disappeared from society. I was also especially interested in the sleep study that was done on volunteers who were plunged into fourteen hours of darkness. They very quickly began to divide their sleep into four hour shifts with an hour or two of wakefulness in between. This also completely explains the monastic prayer schedule in the Orthodox Church, where they will pray the hours in the middle of the night and then go back to sleep. It had me endlessly confused- and now I have an answer for it.

I may have to arrange my schedule to try this, as I've been experiencing insomnia during the night as of late. It may be the answer to my issues and hopefully I'll get better sleep all around. Star and flag, btw!

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 06:02 PM
reply to post by LeSigh

I'm glad this triggered you to find answers to your own questions, it was forwarded to me by a friend who has observed my iffy schedule of sleep.

i don't think I am steering too far off topic by mentioning meditation- but I have been a meditator for 3+ years, when I am meditating daily, I find it impossible to sleep more than 4-5 hours, it seems like we take for granted the purpose of sleep. In my own experiences it seems like sleep is more necessary for the mind than the body, the nervous system is what is needing rest not the muscles/bones/organs. I would say sleep is an involuntary form of rest, while meditation is voluntary. I dont have an answer, but where does the energy come from that charges us in sleep? and can we grasp than energy consciously, and more vividly through practices like meditation?

I did a retreat in august of last year, we were meditating for upwards of 8-9 hours daily (segmented with yoga stretching and short lectures). I felt... glorious, I did not feel hungry, I did not feel sleepy, I felt strong and creative.... I believe there is a source of energy I was accessing that I dont usually in my 'waking' state.

Any meditators have answers to this?

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 08:05 PM
I never sleep for 8 hours. I am up every 25 minutes to urinate. But I am always tired, always.

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 08:35 PM
I think this is a great thread! S&F!

I have found the older I get the less sleep I have. I find myself enjoying going to sleep earlier and getting up earlier. Sometimes I want to sleep late. I consider eight or nine am late...hahaha... Of course the 4 dogs I have wanting to get up and go outside don't allow for late mornings early.

Anyways, I believe your body knows how much sleep it needs to recup itself based on the day's activities. My sleep patterns varies quite a bit. I wish it was a little more regular. I was in bed the other night by 9pm, woke up at 3am and finished my taxes

posted on Mar, 5 2012 @ 11:47 PM
reply to post by el1jah

Never been to a sleep clinic, but it has been suggested in the past. I know I suffer apnoea but even when I position myself where it doesnt wake me up, I'm a light sleeper at best. The smallest noise wakes me up.

I would never be able to sleep with devices on me

It's not so bad when I do not need to sleep, such as recently, but on the occasions where I really need a good rest, it's a sure kicker.

I'm in the process of seeking help anyway, for a plethora of things, so this will come up I am sure. But I love my vivid dreams, and the things I see in there. To some they would be nightmares, but to me, they are - now - fantastic fragments of my imagination when I know they are, and sometimes when I am lucky, vivid accounts I cannot explain. There must be a reason for this, so I am open to explore it further !!

posted on Mar, 6 2012 @ 06:53 AM
I've always been a night owl, but this past year or so my bedtime has gotten later and later. It went from 1 am to 2 am, then 3-4 am. I still get up at my regular time though. For some reason i just don't want to sleep even though I'm dead tired. I usually have to force myself to go to bed, but once I'm asleep I sleep like a log. It's almost 8am and I have not been to bed yet. It's not that I can't sleep, for some reason my mind is fighting sleep.

posted on Mar, 6 2012 @ 07:01 AM
Awesome thread. I just found out the other night reading Dead Mans Secretes that the 8 hour sleep is relatively new

posted on Mar, 17 2012 @ 10:26 AM
reply to post by el1jah

someone should look into poly-rthymic and mono-rhythmic sleep.

posted on Mar, 17 2012 @ 10:34 AM
I'm sorry, but I don't buy this at all.

How long has man had electricity, candle light, or fire, vs how long has our species been evolving?!

People naturally go to sleep after the sun goes down, and naturally wake up after it starts to rise.

There's a lot of science backing this, and the term which identifies it especially is one's "circadian rhythm".

I'm sure people's lives have been more complicated, and they've sought to alter our natural cycles in numerous ways.

Some people adapt without much problems, and others don't.

People are merely far too stressed, and busy in their daily lives to get in the 8-9 hours of sleep we used to get, on average, but a century ago.

For people mentioning they sleep less as they age, this is because your pituitary gland secretes less melatonin. I have no clue if this is truly natural, or a result of various environmental and psychosocial changes in modern times.
edit on 17-3-2012 by unityemissions because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 17 2012 @ 10:37 AM
I usually sleep 6 hours, sometimes 5 and feel completely fine for 18 hours.

Actually when I was in high school there was a study that stated 6 hours could possibly be better for the body rather than 8 hours.

My 5-6 hours is plentiful.

posted on Mar, 17 2012 @ 10:45 AM
reply to post by Mizzijr

There are other factors involved that most people seem not to think of.

If I'm just chilling throughout the day, I can sleep 4 or less hours and be well rested.

If I'm working all day, I need about 5-6.

If I add high intensity, high volume physical training to my work schedule, I will average 7-9 hours throughout the week.

Before industrialization, we needed to be much more laborious to get the tasks done required for decent living.

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