broken sleep

Did you know that broken sleep could be our natural sleeping pattern?

It wasn’t the night before Christmas, in fact, it was the middle of June, at three in the morning. All through the house, nothing stirred, and no television voices echoed across the room. It was a silent night. Every member of my family was snoring and I could hear the refrigerator humming in the kitchen. I looked at the computer screen and continued to type this article.

I guess you think it’s kind of odd that I would be tapping about on my keyboard in the middle of the night. It seems I should be frightened because 3:00 a.m. is the hour that the dead like to communicate and when cats love to trample like elephants through the house, but no. I am fine. I have found inspiration at the waking from my first sleep. Aha! So I guess that caught your attention and you want to know what the ‘first sleep’ is, right? Well, it’s a wonderful thing. And guess what, there’s a second sleep as well.

How it should be

For the majority of society, being awake in the middle of the night means no job, stress or trying to finish a project that is long overdue. “These night owls must be unhealthy or plagued by depression”, you might say. The truth is, us ‘night owls’, as you call it, are probably the normal ones. Well, actually normality is subjective, so I will leave that one alone.

When society whispers about the wide eyes at night, they talk about disrupted circadian rhythms and such, but the truth to be told, when the first and second sleep is the norm, rhythms are perfectly fine. There was a time when broken sleep was common. Two sleeping periods at night were preferred as recently as in the 19th century. Yeah, it’s true. And humans aren’t the only ones who sleep this way. As you know, cats, dogs and other creatures sleep in short intervals of time, and they get plenty of rest.

My personal experience with the broken sleep

I want to share my own information about the broken sleep pattern, and maybe a few other things to help you see outside the box. My daytime thinking/writing is quite different than what I can create during the night. Notice the difference in that last sentence, where daytime writing is just writing and nighttime writing is creating. I did that subconsciously. During the day, I am productive. I can formulate words, sentences and paragraphs as well as the next striving artist. At night, however, my work transforms, pulls from the depths of my psyche and lives. It becomes the story, it isn’t written.

I know that seems a little fantastical, but it’s how I see things nocturnally, and when I go to bed around nine, I wake at three with an itching at the back of my skull. If I don’t get up and greet the night, I will lie there and worry about world peace or something. I arise, and I dance with my muse for several hours before second sleep. You see…it’s not so abnormal.

As I said before, it wasn’t odd in the past to sleep this way. And this is what happened.

Electric light

Before watches and clocks, society woke by the light and dark of the turning of the earth. They learned when it was time to rise for chores, work or other duties according to the brightness outside. But, in the 19th century, prior to Thomas Edison, clocks started to fall out of sync with day and night, and citizens started to sleep in increments. This was largely due to going to bed immediately after dusk because of crime, then several hours later, rising to read, write or enjoy intimacy. After a few hours of the wake, the second sleep was enjoyed.

By the beginning of the 20th century, people started staying out later because of street lamps and the such, thus going to bed later. Since they went to bed later, the two periods of sleep were consolidated into one sleeping session. The special middle of the night waking session was all but eliminated. It seems that electricity took those dreamy, episodes of creativity away from us.

Roger Ekirch, author of At the Days Close: Night in Times Past, believes that if we were left to sleep naturally, we would sleep in small blocks like the animals do, relinquishing one long sleeping session. These beliefs were based on 16 years of research. Ekirch studied hundreds of documents, many of which mentioned the ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleep. References to these professed ordinary sleeping patterns are found in French, Italian and English documents. It can also be tested in modern times.

Psychiatrist Thomas Wehr, of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, conducted a month-long experiment in the 1990s which proved that when the lights disappear, the broken sleep returns. Wehr’s subjects were given only 10 hours of light, as opposed to 16 hours due to artificial light. During this cycle, the participants started to sleep earlier and wake in the middle of the night, creating two sleeping segments. That wonderful secret time, when everyone else was sound asleep, and the fire was lit anew, was back! In the middle of the night, Wehr’s subjects arose to new musings and ideas fed from their dreams.

It’s almost time to sleep again

With all this being said, I’m sure you have the urge to try broken sleep. Unfortunately, most of you cannot work this type of pattern around your work schedule, unless you are self-employed as with many authors and artists. Of course, those who have discovered this sleeping method, have done so by accident-falling back into, what seems to be, a natural rhythm. They have also learned that nighttime activates hormonal changes in the brain, hormones such as prolactin and melatonin, which both contribute to creativity and relaxation. That’s why many strive, despite daytime responsibility to retain this special way of life.

So what do you think? Do you think broken sleep could be our natural sleeping pattern? Could it be that insomnia in the middle of the night is just the desire of the human body to return to an enlightened state of being? Do you feel that little sanctuary by the fireplace calling you to sojourn?

As I type these last words, my eyelids droop. I feel the waves of the second sleep rolling over my chest. My lips tingle and I know…these are my last few words. I am almost done.

Goodnight, once more.

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Sherrie is a freelance writer and artist with over 10 years of experience. She spends most of her time giving life to the renegade thoughts. As the words erupt and form new life, she knows that she is yet again free from the nagging persistence of her muse. She is a mother of three and a lifetime fan of the thought-provoking and questionable aspects of the universe.