Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Medicine Science

Interrupted Sleep Might Be the Best Kind 277

Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that a growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that eight-hours of uninterrupted sleep may be unnatural as a wealth of historical evidence reveals that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks called first and second sleep. A book by historian Roger Ekirch, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern — in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer's Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria. 'It's not just the number of references — it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,' says Ekirch. References to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century with improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses — which were sometimes open all night. 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 which could be the root of a condition called sleep maintenance insomnia, where people wake during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. 'Our pattern of consolidated sleep has been a relatively recent development, another product of the industrial age, while segmented sleep was long the natural form of our slumber, having a provenance as old as humankind,' says Ekrich, adding that we may 'choose to emulate our ancestors, for whom the dead of night, rather than being a source of dread, often afforded a welcome refuge from the regimen of daily life.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Interrupted Sleep Might Be the Best Kind

Comments Filter:
  • I Believe It (Score:5, Informative)

    by mx+b ( 2078162 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:06PM (#39137069)
    I sometimes have insomnia in the middle of the night, after awaking from a few hours' rest. At first I was angry that I needed to get up soon and couldn't sleep, but then I started taking it in stride. If I cannot feel sleepy within 15 minutes or so of laying back down, I get up and read or work on a project or something for an hour or two until the sleepiness comes back, or simply nap after work the next day. Since doing that I feel more relaxed and natural. I am not sure if its biological or simply a state of mind, but I often find it is better not to force sleep if I am not ready for it, it just frustrates me and wastes time. Unfortunately, the way society is set up does not make it easy to run counter to that schedule of course, but I try.
  • interrupted sleep (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:08PM (#39137091)

    As one who had his sleep interrupted during 40 years of medical practice, and now can sleep through the night, a full night of uninterrupted sleep feels wonderful- far better than interrupted sleep.

  • Siesta (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:15PM (#39137165)

    Plenty of the Latin countries still adhere to a segmented sleep pattern.

    In my personal case, the period between 1 and 4 pm is useless for getting anything creative accomplished and my emotional state and creativity peaks in the hours beginning at dusk and for many hours after.

    The pattern of siesta and staying up late for dinner, etc. seems to fit this pattern quite nicely.

  • Re:The Uberman (Score:5, Informative)

    by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:21PM (#39137227)

    In Germany they did a documentary on the Uberman and they mocked it. They thought crazy idea. So the "victim" gave his fullest and something strange happened.

    1) Getting used to the schedule was hard.
    2) Once used to the schedule it actually worked very well. The doctors who inspected him thought the experiment would fail, were also surprised. They did reaction tests, brain scans, and a battery of other tests such as blood pressure. He passed with amazing colours.

    After the test was done the volunteer said he would go back to the original sleeping habits. Not because he did not like it, but because it is out of tune with the rest of society. For the the uberman to work he had to take naps and at the wrong time it was a bit wierd. And then with all of the free time he had he did not know what to do. He ran out of things to do.

    So end conclusion yeah it works, but it is a major lifestyle change.

  • Re:Napping (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:29PM (#39137343) Homepage

    That is called a Siesta, and civilized cultures have been doing it for thousands of years. and early afternoon nap typically after lunch or a couple hours after lunch works wonders.

    My body actually get's "sleepy" around 3:00-4:00pm every day and it's common with others as well. your body WANTS a nap.

  • Re:I call bullshit (Score:4, Informative)

    by halfEvilTech ( 1171369 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:38PM (#39137449)

    This is actually not uncommon, especially with younger infants. If they have issue breastfeeding and you have to use formula; the first few weeks you typically have to feed them every 3-4 hours since they taking in smaller amounts more frequently. As they begin to put on a small amount of weight their appetite increases so they can eat more in one feeding but need fewer feedings. But yes that first 1-2 months can be like this. It was for both of my boys.

  • Re:I call bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:39PM (#39137461) Homepage

    You wake your kids up to feed them? Seriously? Whatever ever happened to feeding the kid when it wakes up hungry and demands it? I'm no expert, but waking the kid up to feed it sounds like a bad pattern to get into for the kid.

    You're right. You're not an expert. For newborns, making sure they stay nourished is extremely important especially in the first month or so. So if you have a fussy eater or the mom has trouble nursing and wants to be sure the child is getting her milk (better in many ways than any formula out there - especially early on), then yes you might have to wake the baby up every couple of hours.

  • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:42PM (#39137507) Homepage

    He was noted for having maintained, by preference, the split-shift sleeping schedule which he'd become accustomed to while serving in the Navy even after the war --- this was noted in the biographical notes section of at least one printing of his unfinished book _The Master Mariner_.

  • Re:I Believe It (Score:5, Informative)

    by anonymousNR ( 1254032 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @12:46PM (#39137551) Homepage
    Cannot say if this works for everyone, when I get up in the middle of the night and cant sleep, I use the trick I stole from the lucid dreamers, stare at a point constantly, preferably (for me that is) a low lit corner of the room and before I know it I fell a sleep.
  • Re:I Believe It (Score:5, Informative)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @01:20PM (#39138017) Homepage Journal

    I don't even try to get back to sleep any more. I just accept the fact that 3-4 hours at a stretch is all I'm comfortable sleeping. So I get up at 1-2 AM most nights and work until around 7, then sleep another 3-4 hours until 11-12. I get in my eight hours total, I feel fully rested, and I find those wee morning hour coding sessions are incredibly productive for some reason. (It's not like it's due to the peace and quiet -- I don't have family and neighbours making much noise during most days in the first place.)

    A "full night's sleep" in the sense of an 8-9 hour stretch in bed is extremely rare for me nowadays.

    It still freaks my Mom out when I call her and say something like "I was working on blah-blah at about 6 this morning..." because she KNOWS I'm not a "morning person" and never have been. But while I'm not exactly "chipper" without a couple cups of coffee when I get up, I find that with a split sleep shift, I'm at least not an outright grouch when I get up.

  • Re:Napping (Score:5, Informative)

    by Prune ( 557140 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @01:57PM (#39138519)

    This is simply a bad recommendation. You should nap a full sleep cycle, which is 90 minutes on average (usually the first one is a bit longer, around two hours). Please see the average somnogram here: []

    There's a reason the Spanish siesta is about two hours. It's been shown that interrupting a sleep cycle during the deeper parts is extremely counter-productive, and can leave you even worse off than if you had stayed awake (or woken up at the previous point of light sleep, i.e. REM portion).

    Another reason it doesn't make sense to sleep for 20 minutes is that BY FAR the most restorative action of sleep happens during the deep parts of the cycle, to the extent that there is research into drugs that increase the portion of sleep spend in those parts so that, say, soldiers etc. can sleep a smaller number of cycles for the same rest.

  • Re:Pre-industrial? (Score:5, Informative)

    by howdygnome ( 1976604 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:09PM (#39138693)
    Having written a book on sleep deprivation...

    Yes modern pre-industrial societies have segmented sleep. Their sleeping pattern in more fluid with daytime napping as an option. They keep their infants near when sleeping. Chimps also have segmented sleep.

    Your sleep needs reflect the prior two weeks of accumulated debt. It can easily take more than a week to catch up on what you have been missing. The early stages don't feel great. In human studies where subjects live without time cues (free running experiments) they initially sleep up to eleven hours at a time then shift to segmented sleep. Long interrupted sleep feels great when you are sleep deprived. It is actually a good gauge of your sleep deprivation.

    Sleep restricted people (e.g. getting 6 hours every night) have the same impairment as those who have pulled an all nighter but lack the insight into their cognitive impairment. There is also a loss of effective self monitoring and the ability to learn effectively from mistakes (especially negative input). That probably applies to most slashdotters.

    Doctors and new parents have interrupted sleep inflicted on them when trying to fit in with the industrial modern work week (9 AM to 5 PM; 40 hours a week). This is not compatible. Those of you who call BS based on those experiences are feeling tired due to accumulated sleep debt.

    The long term consequences of sleep deprivation or restriction: obesity, hypertension, diabetes , cardiovascular disease (MI Stroke), impaired immune function and cognitive emotional impairment (ADD, depression etc). There is an overall higher mortality rate due to these problems.
  • Re:interrupted sleep (Score:4, Informative)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:36PM (#39139039)

    Don't you think it might depend on whether the interruption is caused by outside forces or not? I doubt too many of our ancestors had beepers (or whatever you use now).

    All of our ancestors had bladders.

  • Re:interrupted sleep (Score:4, Informative)

    by AaronLS ( 1804210 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:12PM (#39142395)

    It's the difference between seeing a prostitute and seeing a doctor? :D

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser