For new parents, late night shift workers, or people who are just too busy to get their 8 hours, segmented sleep is a painful reality. Research shows that sleeping in shifts was a common practice by our ancestors. But interrupting your sleep/wake cycle may not be practical or healthy.
What Is Segmented Sleep?
Segmented sleep is a sleep pattern in which your night sleep is divided into two separate chunks, with a period of being awake in between. Before advances in artificial lighting, segmented sleep was a normal sleep pattern for a lot of people.
Virginia Tech historian Roger Ekirch has spent 16 years researching segmented sleep and found considerable evidence showing that earlier generations had their first sleep just after dusk, followed by an hour or two of being awake, time often spent in a relaxed state of prayer or meditation. Then it was back to bed for a second sleep that lasted until morning.
Is Segmented Sleep Healthy Sleep?
Ekirch’s research might suggest that waking up in the middle of the night is natural and can even good for you, but doctors don’t necessarily agree. Timothy A. Connolly, MD, a sleep specialist at the Center of Sleep Medicine at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, says that segmented sleep may have been natural for our ancestors but for us sleeping in shorter sessions is difficult and can be destructive.
Waking at Night
If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t panic. Try to avoid looking at the clock and try to go back for a second sleep. If you can’t fall back asleep, do something relaxing, like reading a book or listening to music, but stay away from the computer and the TV. They both produce too much artificial light and can overstimulate your brain.
Though our ancestors didn’t have adjustable beds to sleep on their sleeping schedules were set and their bodies adjusted but today if you experience sleep like this maybe think about consulting a doctor to make sure you are getting enough sleep to stay healthy.