We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but the BBC has reported that this actually could be good for you. In fact, growing body of evidence from both science, and more interestingly, from human history, suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural, forced upon us modern day humans due to social conditioning.
So if you’re an insomniac who struggles with the idea that you need solid slabs of sleep when the sun is down, fear not: you may actually be the healthy one. Everyone else has developed a kind of sleep disorder that we’ve learned to live with.
“For most of evolution we slept a certain way,” says sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs. “Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology.”
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.
“Many people wake up at night and panic,” observes Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford. “I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.”
“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”.
Jacobs suggests that the waking period between sleeps, when people were forced into periods of rest and relaxation, could have played – and still could play – an important part in the human capacity to regulate stress naturally.
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.”
Read the full story: BBC News – The myth of the eight-hour sleep.