Do you wake up in the middle of the night, frustrated and anxious that insomnia is robbing you of your health and sanity? Perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself is to accept it as your normal sleep cycle, and relax and enjoy it, because, as it turns out, that actually may be the case.
There’s historical and scientific evidence which suggests that humans aren’t meant to stay up 16 hour, and then go to sleep for 8 uninterrupted hours. Instead, that’s just a forced schedule of our post-industrial age.
In his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, historian A. Roger Ekirch examines diaries, plays, legal depostions, medical books and a great deal of other written evidence to show that, before the advent of artificial lighting, many people slept in two shifts. After several hours, they would get up and do some chores, read, make love, visit with friends, or just lie in bed and contemplate life. Then they would sleep again for round 2.
Sleep researchers have found that when people have no access to artificial light, they go back to natural rhythms of wakefulness and sleep. Often that means they sleep for two sessions of 4 to 5 hours each, separated by a period of 1 to 3 hours of calm wakefulness. (Thomas Wehr.) But, during this time of wakefulness, the subjects did not show the rise in the stress hormone cortisol, which is typical in insomniacs. Perhaps, without the stress of thinking that there was something wrong with them because they didn’t follow the “normal” sleep cycle, the subjects simply learned how to enjoy their time awake instead of growing anxious.