The story explains why 8 hours of sleep a night may not be realistic
Sleeping eight hours a night is a desirable goal for many of us. In order to achieve better sleep, we are ready to create sleeping habits and plans that will help us stay rested and full of energy for the day ahead. However, growing body of evidence suggests that sleeping eight hours in a row each night can be unnatural.
The BBC spoke to Roger Ekirch, who published a study that found that people slept in two separate periods at the time. This information, taken from diaries, court records, medical books, and literature, suggests that people went to bed sometime after dark. This was followed by a waking phase of an hour or two and another phase of sleep.
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The wake phases are believed to have been active, with reports of people getting up from bed, smoking, and even visiting friends. For the most part, people stayed in bed doing low-key activities such as reading, writing, or praying. If they had partners in bed, they also used that time to have sex. A sixteenth-century manual suggested that the best time to conceive is “after you sleep” for more fun with sex.
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All of these activities sound like reasonable measures when faced with insomnia, especially as experts now advise against staying in bed and forcing yourself to go back to sleep.
In old days the night was associated with criminal activity, which made it unappetizing for people to spend their time outside their home, regardless of their wealth or social status. “Even the rich who could afford candlelight had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social merit in staying up all night, ”explains Evening’s Empire writer and historian Greg Koslofsky.
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Ekirch reports that in the mid-17th century the habit of sleeping twice a night disappeared more and more from the collective unconscious until there were no more updated records. Contributing factors could include street lighting, household lighting, and a flood of coffee houses that were sometimes open all night. “People were becoming more and more time-conscious and more sensitive to efficiency, certainly before the 19th century,” he explains. “But the industrial revolution has stepped up this attitude by leaps and bounds.”
The next time you’re awake in bed and feel less anxious about the tingling sensation of sleep, you may use this time to relax and distract yourself from other activities that aren’t too strenuous. If it’s still dark, you will likely get sleepy within a short period of time.