Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sleep History

Those of you who participated in our roundtable on middle-of-the-night reading know that I’ve learned to rationalize my occasional bouts of insomnia as opportunities to get through my bedside stack of books. But, even better, this NPR story says that those hours of wakefulness place me in a great historical tradition. It features this bit of sleep history from psychiatrist Thomas Wehr: Those of us who wake up in the middle of the night are really sleeping—or is that not sleeping?—just the way our ancestors did.

"There are historical records of people sleeping in two bouts at night," Wehr explains. "They called the first bout dead sleep, and the second bout was called morning sleep. The wakeful period in between was referred to as watch or watching.”

In one study that simulated the long winter nights that people would have experienced in the days before artificial lighting, Wehr points out, subjects ended up sleeping in two stints separated by a two-hour period of wakefulness, a “quiescent, meditative state” that some called “midnight comfort.”

I’ll try to keep this bit of soothing news in mind next time I'm up in the middle of the night. Because if anxiety contributes to insomnia, one of the things I end worrying about most at 2 a.m. is that I’m not getting enough sleep.

The piece goes on to say that such wakefulness is not uncommon. especially as we age and our sleep becomes more fragile. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with me--I’m just getting old.

1 comment:

  1. Huh. I remember reading this before, and it makes total sense. I've also read that french peasants used to spend much of the winter in bed, where it was warm. This sounds like a good idea to me, too.