(This photo has very little to do with the post other than that 1. I’m sleeping in it and 2. Aw.)
Thanks so much to reader clairebecca for sending me the link to this article on Biphasic Sleep, which was both generally interesting and made me feel loads better. And many of you have written to me that you have similar problems, so I thought hey: maybe it’ll make you feel loads better, too.
(To recap, in case you missed my earlier posts on the topic: more nights than not, I suffer from something called “habitual waking” where between the hours of about 1:30 and 4:30 I wake up repeatedly, and am sometimes am unable to fall back asleep for hours, if at all. If you’ve never dealt with this, it may not sound like a big deal, but honestly, it’s pretty miserable: after a certain point you start panicking, which only makes the situation worse, and while some things help a little – including turning clocks away and keeping the room cool – I have yet to find anything reliable.)
Anyway, I found this article fascinating. Basically, what it says is that we didn’t evolve to sleep eight straight hours: we evolved to fall asleep when the sun went down, spend the nighttime hours in total darkness (not the city/suburban yellow-ish glow of today), and go through a biphasic cycle, in which 3-4 hours of “deep” sleep are followed by a second phase of “morning sleep”.
It’s likely that societal expectations about sleep structure – that it’s supposed to be eight hours of unbroken, deep, heavy slumber – are making problems out of what may be normal sleeping patterns. Clinicians are finding that if they can make insomnia patients understand that waking up in the night is actually normal and natural, they feel better about their condition. Because they “perceive interrupted sleep as normal,” they stop stressing over waking and are able to get back to sleep more easily.
Some forms of insomnia, in which people wake up in the middle of the night, might not actually be clinical conditions, but rather the manifestation of the natural human sleep cycle trying to assert itself. Insomnia may just be a problem of perception; if you look at your “problem” in a different light, it disappears.
Whether all this is true or not I have no idea, but what I do know is that when I woke up at 2:30AM last night and started to panic, I thought about how the article describes Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote about his time camping in the French highlands and how he often awakened in the middle of the night to enjoy a cigarette and some quiet contemplation.
He referred to this time as his “perfect hour.”
I thought about this…
and back to sleep I went.
Hey, whatever works, right?