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Broken Sleep was Normal Until 150 plus Years Ago

February 2, 2022 By ,

medical weight lossWe have all been told that eight hours of rest a night is the way to go. In fact, most of us think that this pattern probably never really varied very much over time and place.  However, sleep researcher Ekirch has found a different story to be true. As Ekirch began researching nocturnal life in preindustrial Europe and America, he discovered evidence that many humans used to sleep in segments — a first sleep and second sleep with a break of a few hours in between to eat, talk, etc.

The Practice of 8 Hours of Sleep is New

The practice of sleeping through the night didn’t really happen until just a few hundred years ago, his work suggested. It only evolved thanks to the invention of the light bulb and electricity in the Industrial Revolution.

The history of sleep not only reveals fascinating details about everyday life in the past, but is helping sleep scientists gain a new perspective on what constitutes a good night’s sleep. It also offers new ways to think about the sleep problems that plague so many humans today.  Middle of the night insomnia is the primary sleep issue in the US and most developed nations.  Perhaps, this is not a problem and simply a remnant of ancestral sleep patterns.

The History of Broken Sleep

Ekirch  found multiple references to a “first” and “second” sleep in diaries, medical texts, works of literature and prayer books.  By the early 19th century, however, the first sleep had begun to expand at the expense of the second sleep.  By the end of the century, the second sleep was little more than turning over in one’s bed for an extra 10 minutes of snoozing.

Today, we have lumped our sleep pattern in to one nights sleep and preferably for 8 hours. However, maybe sleep is not a one size, fits all approach!

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