According to The National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep an adult should get each night is ‘7-9 hours’. Even the fact that The National Sleep Foundation suggests this amount in one figure and ‘per night’ is assuming that it is entirely normal and natural for people to sleep for a single period in every 24 hours. Hence, in 2016 the vast majority of us do exactly that; we go to bed at night and try to sleep solidly for eight hours as we are told is best for us. Further, we do it every night for the duration of our lives without giving it much thought. Suffice to say, and even with an estimated ‘1 in 3’ people in 2016 said to be suffering from sleep problems and insomnia according to research and statistics provided via the Sleep Health Foundation, we simply accept often without realising that hitting the hay for a solid eight hours every night is a natural thing humans do the world over; but is it?
The answer might surprise many, but the reality is that from Africa to South America, go back only a century and the evidence suggests segmented sleep is in fact the most natural way to restore oneself. Further, not only does it seem that people the world over shared this habit of partaking in segmented sleep, but that the majority of those who practiced segmented sleep did so in the same or extremely similar fashion. That is, despite geographical location, age, sex or other alternating factors, people when left without an alarm clock and modern convenience of the light bulb, seemed to fall into sleeping for four hours and then wake for two or three hours and potter about getting jobs done or sending quality time with a loved one before heading back to bed again for a second sleep of about the same duration.
Intrigued by discovering that such a short time ago people in almost all countries and climates naturally engaged in segmented sleep, and as reported in 2012 via the BBC magazine website: ‘In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.’
More recently, in July of this year (2016), the Daily Mail website published a related article exploring segmented sleep and expressing a similar curiosity as to why, when all evidence seems to point to segmented sleep being in fact ‘the norm’, do we insist on forcing ourselves to try and sleep every night for a solid eight hours. The answer though may be with the aforementioned ‘convenience of the light bulb’.
That is, it appears our sleeping habits very suddenly changed during in and subsequent to the Victorian Period when sleep and routine began to be shaped less by the sun, moon and natural forces and more by the industrial revolution, not least because advancing technologies permitted people to work more hours than ever and afforded us light in which to work whatever the time. Even more interestingly, it is since then that we have begun to coin, diagnose and discuss as well as lament suffering from all manner of ‘sleep disorders’ and issues. Rather, than revert back to a segmented sleep pattern, we have instead (and as an industrial society and now world) opted to create industries to provide those suffering from things like insomnia with all manner of pills, bubble baths and herbal remedies, often marketing the products out there and purporting to help a person sleep as ‘natural’ when in fact the most natural remedy might in fact be to ditch the bath bombs, cocoa and lavender room spray and instead give segmented sleep a go.