The Myth of 8-Hour Sleep


    you get your 8 hours of shuteye last night or did you spend the better
    part of the night wondering why conventional wisdom says you need 8 hours
    of sleep?

    Stephanie Hegarty over at BBC News Magazine explores the concept of the
    eight-hour sleep, which is actually not how humans have been sleeping,
    historically speaking:

    In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal
    paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical
    evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

    His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years
    later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern
    – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s
    Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

    Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe
    a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking
    period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

    “It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they
    refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

    During this waking period people were quite active. They often
    got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours.
    Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer
    manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours
    in between sleeps.

    Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started
    to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban
    upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200
    years filtered down to the rest of Western society.

    By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely
    from our social consciousness.


    The Myth of 8-Hour Sleep


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