The following is a visitor-submitted question or story. For more, you can submit your own sleep story here, or browse the collection of experiences and questions other visitors have shared here.

Is It Unnatural To Sleep In Eight-Hour Intervals?

by David Wang
(Stanford, CA)

BBC News published an article two weeks ago (February 22, 2012) declaring that the eight-hour sleep pattern may actually be unnatural: research grounded on historical evidence has shown that humans actually used to sleep in two distinct chunks. We have always viewed our seven to nine hours of unbroken sleep, and indeed, we have tried a myriad of tools and aids to help us achieve this sublime goal. From pillow-top mattresses to Sleep Number beds to sleeping pills, our efforts to create a perfect slumber environment has resulted in a multi-billion dollar industry.

Roger Ekirch, a professor at Virginia Tech, discusses in his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past the history of our intervals of slumber. He suggests that before industrial times, people typically divided up their sleep into two bouts known as first and second sleep. Around an hour after sunset, people would go to bed and sleep for about four hours. After this first sleep, they would get out of bed for a couple hours, and then return to their peaceful snooze at around 2 AM and sleep for another four hours. The period of wakefulness between first and second sleep was actually a period of substantial activity: individuals would often read, write, perform chores, or perhaps even have some sexual intimacy.

Ekirch exclaims that because of technological advances and cultural development, having a first and second sleep eventually faded out over the course of history, and by the 1920s, dividing our interval of rest into two had completely disappeared. Because of the introduction of street lighting, domestic lighting, and coffee houses, socializing through the night became a legitimate activity.

Sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs declares that waking up during the night is actually an element of normal human physiology. Furthermore, the belief that we must sleep in one integrated interval may be damaging: today, people who wake up at night might panic or feel anxiety. Conversely, in the past, people would often use the period of wakefulness to regulate stress and meditate on their dreams. In the future, the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t worry about struggling to get back asleep. Instead, take the time to relax, digest the events of the past day, and get pumped for tomorrow!

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Sleep News Stories.

Enjoy this page? Please help us pay it forward to others who would find it valuable by Liking, Sharing, Tweeting, Stumbling, and/or Voting below.

About This Site

Welcome! This site is continuously being created by students of Dr. William C. Dement's Sleep And Dreams course at Stanford University.

We made this site as a call to action for people all over the world to live healthier, happier, safer, and more productive lives by learning about their own sleep. We have faith that reading the information provided on this site will motivate you to be smart about your sleep deprivation and strategic about your alertness in order to live life to your fullest, most energetic potential.

In fact, we challenge you to do so! What do you say, are you up for the challenge?

A Note On Visitor-Submitted Questions:

Publishing sleep stories and questions from our visitors is meant to create a forum for open and proactive dialogue about an extremely important portion of our lives (one that occupies 1/3 of it and affects the other 2/3) that isn't talked about enough. It is not meant to substitute a trip to the doctor or the advice of a specialist. It's good to talk; it is not good to avoid consulting someone who's profession it is to help you with this kind of stuff.

If you are in any way concerned about your sleep health, don't wait for an answer on here, and don't necessarily rely on them. See a sleep specialist in your area as soon as possible.

More Questions:

Ask | Answer

The Stanford Sleep Book

Stanford Sleep Book Picture

Dr. Dement's pioneering textbook has been the core text for Sleep and Dreams since 1980, but it has just recently been made available to the wider public for the first time.

In it you'll find a more detailed account of the most important things you need to know about sleep, alertness, dreams, and sleep disorders. Studies, statistics, plus plenty of Dr. Dement's classic anecdotes painting the history of sleep medicine.

Preface | Intro | Contents | Get A Copy

More Sleep Resources

The Zeo

A revolution in personal sleep tracking, the Zeo is a wireless headband that transmits your brainwaves in realtime to a dock (pictured here) or your smartphone. The result? You can wake up and see exactly what stages of sleep you were in during the night! Unprecedented personalized sleep knowledge.

Sleep Paralysis: A Dreamer's Guide

Sleep Paralysis Treatment Book

Ever woken up paralyzed? A surprising number of us have, believe it or not. But few know the actual causes of this phenomenon, and fewer still how to exert control over it. Dream researcher and sleep paralysis expert Ryan Hurd shares breakthrough insights into how to do just that.

Important Disclaimer

Please Note:

The information found on this page and throughout this site is intended for general information purposes only. While it may prove useful and empowering, it is NOT intended as a substitute for the expertise and judgments of healthcare practitioners.

For more info, see our
Terms of Use.