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Could 2 Sleeps be Better than One?

No one likes waking up in the middle of the night. In fact, it can be maddening to watch the minutes tick by and turn to hours. Hours, you fret, will leave you exhausted in the morning. And fret you do. So often when the body just wants to get up and relieve itself, the mind wants to start problem-solving – not just your issues but world events! Yikes, what to do?

This unwelcome event turned into a habit for me about ten years ago. According to a National Public Radio article, “Can't Sleep? Neither Can 60 Million Other Americans,” I have lots of company. The article goes on to say how devastating insomnia can be to one’s health. It also points out that older women are particularly susceptible. Read full article here.

In my case, this habit got started mostly because I would wake up from my stomach grumbling. Some strange combination of acid reflux and actually being hungry would insure I couldn’t get back to sleep. Then I discovered eating cereal helped. Then I discovered that I really liked being up at that quiet, quiet hour and I would spend the time working on my Bible study and praying. After an hour or so, I would find myself tired again and go right back to sleep. Only this second sleep felt deliciously deep.

I got to the point that I loved waking up in the night.

Doing some research the other day, I found out my habit used to be a common occurance. Back in the 1800s and before, there were several reasons people were more likely to split their sleep into two four-hour shifts. According to, “Your ancestors didn’t sleep like you”:

“The existence of our sleeping twice per night was first uncovered by Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech. His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning. References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.”

Before the advent of electricity, people may have adopted this practice to keep a fire burning through the night or would awake to feed a baby. Whatever the reason, the article details a more recent study in which men who were forced into shorter daylight (replicating winter) naturally changed their sleep cycles to this ancient pattern. “Over a twelve hour period, the participants would typically sleep for about four or five hours initially, then wake for several hours, then sleep again until morning. They did not sleep more than eight hours total. The middle hours of the night, between two sleeps, was characterized by unusual calmness, likened to meditation. This was not the middle-of-the-night toss-and-turn that many of us experienced. The individuals did not stress about falling back asleep, but used the time to relax.”

For many in our modern society, the straight-forward 8-hour sleep pattern works just fine. But if you find you are catching a long cat-nap on the couch – especially in the winter – then waking for a few hours before bedtime, just know you have something in common with your great, great, great, great, great grandmother. Apparently, she did the same thing every night.


"Many things--such as loving, going to sleep,

or behaving unaffectedly--are done worst

when we try hardest to do them."

-C. S. Lewis

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