There is evidence that in the past we used to have two sleeps with a period of wakefulness in between rather than the one period of sleep we seems to expect now. Researchers from the Centre for Sleep Research and School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University, maintain that throughout history there have been numerous accounts of segmented sleep. In preindustrial Europe, two sleeps of around four hours each with a couple of hours awake was consider to be the norm. People would relax, ponder their dreams, sew, chop wood or read during the waking period.
References to having a first and second sleep seemed to disappear around the late 17th century in the upper classes in Europe and over the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of society. Interestingly, insomnia references in literature seemed to appear when accounts of split sleep disappeared.
There are still some examples of split sleep today in some cultures, for example, the ones that take an afternoon siesta. In fact, our body clock lends itself to this with some people feeling less alert in the early afternoon. Some people have adopted two periods of sleep because they like having two periods of increased activity, creativity and alertness rather than a long wakeful period where their alertness and productivity wanes. Evidence has shown for some people that naps lead to benefits for memory and learning, increasing alertness and improving moods, so for some people a split sleep might be a more natural rhythm for them.
Whether you are one of the people who like one long sleep or two shorter sleeps, there are a few things that you can do to ensure that you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep:
- Establish a routine
- Ensure that your body associates your bedroom and bed with sleeping
- Practice Mindfulness meditations when going to sleep
- Don’t “buy into” thoughts, let them drift harmlessly away
- Don’t clock watch
- Think of pleasant things
- Exercise more during the day
- Avoid stimulants e.g. coffee, nicotine, even tea
- Avoid alcohol.