How Our Ancestors Used to Sleep Twice a Night and Highlighting the Problem of Present Shock

8 hour sleeping is a modern invention.

Imagine you are a denizen of the 18th century. It’s just past 8:30 P.M., you’ve got your night-cap on. You blow out your candles and fall asleep to the smell of the wax and the wick, which gently fills the air around your bed. Some hours pass. 2:30 AM. You awaken, grab your coat, and visit the neighbors because they, too, are up. Doing quiet reading, prayer, or even having sex. Well, apparently before the age of electricity, sleeping twice a night was completely ubiquitous.

Back in those times, we slept twice a night, getting up for an hour or two for recreation before heading back to bed until dawn.


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.

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

An English doctor wrote, for example, that the ideal time for study and contemplation was between “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Chaucer tells of a character in the Canterbury Tales that goes to bed following her “firste sleep.” And, explaining the reason why working class conceived more children, a doctor from the 1500s reported that they typically had sex after their first sleep.

Ekirch’s book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past is replete with such examples.

But just what did people do with these extra twilight hours? Pretty much what you might expect.

Most stayed in their beds and bedrooms, sometimes reading, and often they would use the time to pray. Religious manuals included special prayers to be said in the mid-sleep hours.

Others might smoke, talk with co-sleepers, or have sex. Some were more active and would leave to visit with neighbours.

As we know, this practice eventually died out. Ekirch attributes the change to the advent of street lighting and eventually electric indoor light, as well as the popularity of coffee houses. Author Craig Koslofsky offers a further theory in his book Evening’s Empire. With the rise of more street lighting, night stopped being the domain of criminals and sub-classes and became a time for work or socializing. Two sleeps were eventually considered a wasteful way to spend these hours.

The science seems to back up our history books. In a 4-week study with 15 men living with restricted daylight hours, something strange started to happen. After catching up on their “sleep debt” – a common state of affairs for most of us – the participants began to wake up in the middle of the night:

They began to have two sleeps.

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 slept not 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.

Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford, points out that even with standard sleep patterns, this night waking isn’t always cause for concern. “Many people wake up at night and panic,” he says. “I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.”

Although the article mentions there are no benefits for sleeping twice a night, it’s difficult to imagine there wouldn’t be some major effects on our daily consciousness. How much would we benefit from a few hours of “unusual calmness, likened to meditation”? Seriously. I haven’t tried “bi-modal” sleep, but I think many of us, including myself, have stumbled into it. Our maddeningly busy digital schedules prevent us from considering the possibility, and benefits, of interloping with the sidereal realms of consciousness for more than an 8-hour “sleep debt” crash.

But we can’t go back to a pre-electric lifestyle of early-to-bed, early-to-rise. Yet, maybe we can we utilize this knowledge to enhance our quality of life, and open us up to alternative modes of mind and time.

This leads me to a book I’ve been reading through lately.

Swallowing the Information Age in a Single Gulp

0-TJY86RGUtgAyAL5rIf you’re interested in reading more on the modern world’s impact on our mind, look no further than Douglas Rushkoff’s new book: Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now:

“The point is that time is not neutral. Hours and minutes are not generic, but specific. We are better at doing some thing sin the morning and others in the evening. More incredible, those times of day change based on where we are in the twenty-eight day moon cycle. In one week, we are more productive in the early morning, while in the next week we are more effective in the early afternoon.

Technology gives us the ability to ride roughshod over all these nooks and crannies of time. We can fly through ten time zones in as many hours. We can take melatonin or Ambien to fall asleep when we’ve arrived at our destination, and later take one of our attention deficit disorder-afflicted son’s Ritalin pills to wake up the next morning…

Where our technologies may be evolving as fast as we can imagine new ones, our bodies evolved over millennia, and in concert with forces and phenomena we barely understand. It’s not simply that we need to give the body rhythms… the body is based on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different clocks, all listening to and relating to and syncing with everyone and everything elses. Human beings just can’t evolve that quickly. Our bodies are changing on a much different timescale.”

What Rushkoff suggests, however, is not to toss aside our iPhones and “always-on” digital lifestyles, but to figure out a way for our technology to enhance our biology:

“Yes, we are in a chronobiological crisis of depression, suicides, cancers, poor productivity, and social malaise as a result of abusing and defeating the rhythms keeping us alive and in sync with nature and one another. But what we are learning gives us the ability to turn this crisis into an opportunity. Instead of attempting to retrain the body to match the artificial rhythms of our digital technologies and their artifacts, we can instead use our digital technologies to reschedule our lives in a manner consistent with our physiology.”

I’m not sure I’ll be adopting a ‘bi-modal’ sleep, but I can definitely see the benefits of recognizing, and attempting to live by, a new understanding of time. Time as quality. Duration. Flavor. One of my favorite 20th century cultural philosophers, Jean Gebser, wrote in 1949 that time was at the heart of Western civilization’s crisis. In our attempt to be “in the new,” we try to be tapped into everything happening, at once. But maybe that’s the wrong approach. The wrong attitude about time. It’s not important to quantify time like we do. Maybe what’s needed is to step back and be present, not like the “present shock” Rushkoff is critiquing the digital age for, but in presence. In swallowing the information age in a single gulp.

It could be that our contemporary crisis with being in the now is no different than the Zen koan of “swallowing the ocean in a single gulp.” You can’t do it if you literalize time into little bits, tiny ticks of the clock, emails, Facebook notifications and bleeps on the LCD screen. It’s just far too much. But our information overload may, in reality, be a limitation not of the digital age but of the mode of quantifying consciousness we bring to it. What do you think? How do we deal with the “Flood” as James Gleick calls it?


Jeremy D. Johnson

Jeremy is a writer of short stories and essays, a blogger, rogue academic and new media scholar. He received his MA from Goddard in Consciousness Studies and a BA from Fordham in Sociology. Exploring the interstices of myth, media and religious experience, his writing attempts to outline the direction of our interconnected age and an integral culture.

133 Comments on "How Our Ancestors Used to Sleep Twice a Night and Highlighting the Problem of Present Shock"

  1. Bi-modal sleep interestingly mirrors many older cultures’ mid-day siestas. I suspect it’s healthier than living for business, and lately I’ve sometimes been taking naps during the day and having periods of wakefulness near the middle of the night.

    • Good point there! I’ve recently embraced taking naps during the day, too. Although I have the bad habit of staying up until 3-4 AM, suddenly waking up, albeit in a drowsy way, and then staying up until dawn. I wonder if this is a case of cruising into the interstice between these two sleeps.

    • I tried napping during the day, too, but my boss did not approve. 🙁

  2. atlanticus | Aug 25, 2013 at 3:27 pm |

    I’d heard of this before. I wonder if they also had more lucid dreams then, since waking up mid sleep for an hour or so is often noted as a potential catalyst…

    I’d love to do this, but I feel a twinge of sadness from even glancing at the words “sleep debt”.

    • Charlotte, really good question about pre-industrial denizens lucid dreaming more. I have to imagine it had SOME effect on their relationship to the unconscious mind.

      • atlanticus | Aug 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm |

        It doesn’t take much imagination to stretch that concept into a potential explanation for belief in wide-spread, malevolent witchcraft…

      • omni_lamb | Dec 3, 2013 at 3:14 am |

        A second sleep, without a doubt, helps dreamers become lucid!

  3. Hadrian999 | Aug 25, 2013 at 3:41 pm |

    i can do it every once in a while
    usually i have a hared time getting back to sleep

    • I’ve had that trouble too, but maybe if you go to bed nice and early, that way you get a few solid hours of rest until around 2:30 AM or so. And then go to sleep again around sunrise? I’ve had to do this spontaneously, when sick or suddenly woken up, etc.

      • DabralMadhusudan | Dec 1, 2013 at 11:08 pm |

        this is a intersting habit the peoplle having burden in mind who are less tolkative who thinks more in life who are creative a persnoltty who thinks extra thinking extra vision the same problem

  4. I’ll try it. Can’t wait to visit my neighbors at three a.m.

  5. Conspiracy Carrot | Aug 25, 2013 at 4:00 pm |

    I have to work very early in the morning and have been sleeping this way for almost 2 years now. The segmented sleep will work for me so long as I make sure I get in 8 hours of good sleep in a day.

    Charlotte, I do find myself having more lucid dreams than I might if I slept for 8 hours at a stretch. Although I’ve always been an active dreamer…

    • My girlfriend was raised Muslim, and during Ramadan each year, while growing up in Egypt, she explained to me that her family would often go to bed very early, and then wake up around 2-3 AM for a huge feast and prayers and stories, and then go back to bed around 6 AM. Interesting huh?

  6. The period of wakefulness is also called the watch. The altered state of consciousness has a hormonal aspect and has similarities to roosting chickens. The experience is described very well in a great book called head trip. a few commenters seem to have missed the bit about it coming about when the eye isn’t exposed to lights after dark.

    • @infoboy:disqus, I like that point. Yes, it’s not easy to tune out from the electric light that now surrounds us moderns, even in suburban and rural areas this is sometimes hard to avoid. Difficult to replicate without padding your walls covering your windows.

      • Right its not really possible, interestingly someone found out that its the blue part of the spectrum that switches off melatonin production, so im guessing maybe by wearing blue blocker shades some aspects of pre industrial sleep might return, but it gets hard to see things properly.though! also do a search for “Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles” for the original article about this.

  7. DeepCough | Aug 25, 2013 at 7:34 pm |

    The “eight-hour sleep” paradigm was a product of the Industrial Revolution, which was perfect for people who worked 16-hour days and passed out for eight hours of “sleep.”

  8. AManCalledDa-da | Aug 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm |

    This makes sense to anyone who’s lived for a time in a place without electricity.

    • Yeah? Sounds reasonable. I can’t say that I have though! Born and raised in N.Y. And in Florida these days… even the rural areas have electricity, Walmarts and parking lots…

  9. AManCalledDa-da | Aug 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm |

    “But we can’t go back to a pre-electric lifestyle of early-to-bed, early-to-rise.”

    Of course we can. It’s just a matter of making a conscious choice. Those, “maddeningly busy digital schedules” are all artificial, and can be turned off. They have on/off switches, now.

    • Right. We don’t have to serve our machines.

      • Anarchy Pony | Aug 26, 2013 at 10:52 am |

        The views expressed here are note those of the machine slaves in general who really just want to serve the machines. Because, really, the machines are great!

      • We really don’t, and we can craft them to re-create even the pre-industrial environments of “bi-modal” sleep, if we really wanted to.

    • I agree with you, that effort, however, is thwarted (perhaps not in a bad way. More in a creative tension) by our involvement in communicating, as we do, and in the sheer presence of the electric hum of lights outside our city windows. The late professor and philosopher, Rick Roderick, said that (and this was in the 90’s) T.V. let’s you do everything except turn it off. Not that we’re helpless, but it’s hard to totally “drop out” on command these days. Given it’s artificial, but it’s also social. Hence our communities here on Disinfo and Twitter and… and… and… 😉

  10. Another good example of this in formal practice from antiquity to today:

    Incidentally, this also first came to my attention at Virginia Tech (actually from a course on ancient music)

    • Oh yes very true! Monastics I think have utilized these sleep cycles prolifically over the ages. Then again they ARE sort of consciousness ‘hackers,’ utilizing various modes of engagement with the mind, wakefulness, and concentration to create altered states. 😉

      Thanks for sharing @dingbert:disqus!

  11. I hear the Oracle from the Matrix saying “but what will really cook your noodle is did you wake up in the middle of the night or just dream that you did?”

    • I bet you this happened all the time. Heck it still does for many of us during the night. I’ve woken up so many times (or believed I have) and heard something going on about that house… only to wake up later and learn that was a dream.

      I’m wondering how it played into pre-industrial folk stories and fairytales.

  12. Karen Mashek | Aug 26, 2013 at 1:22 am |

    babies do this a lot… I had five and see the same sleep patterns as described above.

  13. Timelessman | Aug 26, 2013 at 2:39 am |

    Interesting. Since I retired and no longer have to get up for work, I naturally morphed into this 2 cycle sleep pattern. So have most of the others in my age group. Maybe it is indeed more natural and as such, healthier…

    • I’m more and more inclined to try it!

    • Catherine Stroh Johnson | Dec 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

      I have had the same experience since retiring. At first I was concerned with the new pattern of wakefulness during the night. So different from being on the clock for someone else’s expectations (work). I now embrace that quiet time in the night. There is something mystical and so calming in be awake during the night time hours.

    • arita trahan | Dec 3, 2013 at 6:40 am |

      My most creative time is around 3:30 am. I love to write then.

    • I just wrote a note above that was similar, but failed to mention that I, also, am retired, and I’ve discovered this since.

  14. kowalityjesus | Aug 26, 2013 at 3:35 am |

    I think that is what I am doing right now! I just caught up on some semi-long term sleep debts in the last couple days, and find such an interesting article to contemplate in the peace of the night an ineffable blessing. Here is maybe the perfect music to accompany

    • Really cool @kowalityjesus:disqus! So glad my article was able to catch you at this time. Hope your contemplation was pleasant and “meditative,” as the article suggests about that twilight hour.

      Beautiful music. Reminds me a bit of Hildegard Von Bingen’s compositions, which I’ve taken a liking to these past few years.

      Happy dreaming!

  15. fuckedupmemes | Aug 26, 2013 at 9:20 am |

    Interesting article

  16. Monkey See Monkey Do | Aug 26, 2013 at 9:22 am |

    I find the activity of sleep to be really weird. I know it may sound stupid to some, I sort of feel a bit like an intellectual yokel when thinking about it actually, because many people just say whats so strange about sleep? its your brain recharging from the day or something. I find the fact we are forced to shut ourselves out from the external world in a cyclical fashion, where our bodies become paralyzed and our external perceptions shut down and we do this thing called ‘dreaming’ to be very fucking weird. I mean what the fuck is dreaming anyway? and don’t even get me started on lucid dreaming. I know some will accuse of not listening to the ‘cold hard facts’ and not ‘manning’ up to reality and that there isn’t anything mysterious about sleep and dreaming. But at some point of thinking about it, it just seems quite odd indeed. Certainly an interesting area for science and philosophy to explore with new technologies. Rant over.

    • If you think that’s crazy, you should check out what the Tibetan Buddhist’s have to say about dreaming 😉

      Seriously though, it is weird. And I think it’s even weirder for us because we see it so technologically: dumping our bodies like cell phones onto a wall charger for the night.

      I think there’s something deeply mysterious about dreaming, and so I totally am with you there.

      • I have a friend of the rat species that I think I shared a dream with once. I dreamed that she was being attacked by a snake, and I had to prise the snake’s jaws from around her in order to save her, and I threw the snake far away from us both. Since then we have had a deeper connection. I am aware this doesn’t necessarily mean that we did in fact share a dream but it seems difficult to deny. She is the only one in the pack who will heed me when I try to signal dangerous areas and proceeds to try other routes.

        I have wondered if I stepped into an ancestral nightmare of hers (the first thing I thought), or perhaps the whole thing was an abstract metaphor for the trust developing between us. Or it could be I am wildly misinterpreting submission reflexes (she is at the bottom of the pecking order), or that she is reacting to my attitude towards her which I am assuming reflects in my scent and detectable vibrations and whatnot. Then there’s the possibility she’s an astral adept and summoned me to her aid in a tough spot battling against dark and savage forces aiming to feast on her exposed spirit (my favoured interpretation).

        It’s so difficult to get a handle on dream events in the semi-unaware “normal” mode of dreaming. I’d like to lucid dream more and try all this astral projection bollocks I keep hearing about but something in me can’t dedicate to it like I used to.

        • arita trahan | Dec 3, 2013 at 6:39 am |

          What a delightful thought process. Everything is possible.

        • mythicwave | Dec 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm |

          I’m not sure about this, but I’d like to offer you a piece of cheese for the effort.

    • Darby O' Gill | Dec 2, 2013 at 2:57 pm |

      Yeah, so weird. Random, lolz

    • if you’re familiar with machine learning, dreaming starts making sense. The brain is basically a giant neural network with unparalleled capacity and capabilities. My guess is that during the day, we simply gather a “training set” of data, what we’ve done, what was the consequence of that, etc. It’s all remembered. Then you go to sleep and your brain runs a kind of learning algorithm on the experiences of the day to compact them and integrate with the knowledge already hardwired properly. So maybe you actually learn more while you sleep :). This would also explain the isolation state. Our brain is kind of in a “matrix” of its own, which allows it to run neural updates very freely. It like melting the ice (fall asleep), pour the water in another form and freeze it again (wake up) where the new shape of ice is more suitable for use, supposedly.
      What actually fascinates me, is that dolphins only sleep half. When they sleep, only one hemisphere is “sleeping” and the other one is waking. And after some time, they switch. It’s not optimal from the machine learning hypothesis of sleep, since you can’t update the wiring between hemispheres because one of them is in use. But it’s totally awesome. I’d like to have that.

    • Jimmy Sigona | Dec 4, 2013 at 12:12 am |

      Many reasons for sleeping that seem to make sense. Another recent study on mice found that we are dumping brain waste products during sleep.

      One of my favorite theories about dreaming is that we take our experiences and embellish on them, playing out many different scenarios. That enables us to be more prepared in the waking world for events that might happen–like having a dress rehearsal for possible events. Imagine all the dreams where we are chased. Those dreams give us “experience”, albeit imagined, so that if we are chased in the waking world we don’t totally freak out and have some ideas of what to do.

      • Monkey See Monkey Do | Dec 5, 2013 at 12:18 am |

        There remains many mysteries about that strange phenomena though. I suspect that the more science delves into it the stranger it will become, as in other areas of science. Take for instance a really well remembered dream, during the dream you remember reality and the finely detailed environments as if it were your life and you existed there. Also forming complex relationships that seem beyond a shadow of a boubt that they are coming from a sentience other than your own. Perception of the Imagination is turned inside looking out. And then come the ‘False awakenings’ spiraling out forever until you start questioning the very nature of reality itself.

  17. Having spent much of my life holding back my own desire to write, due to a range of social pressures to be seen doing if not actually achieving anything thereby, in recent times I have totally given myself over to my writing urge. Long hours of stream of consciousness outpouring has tended to start about 4am. Sometimes this has gone until almost midday before i have gotten out of bed to exercise and have breakfast.

    For me this has not been work but, as describe in this post, a kind of meditative state.

    Of greatest interest has been remembering that I did a similar thing as a child.

    Although my mother would come in and tell me off for sleeping in, what she was unaware of was the pre-dawn hours I would spend awake and alone amusing myself for hours. By the time I had enough of my own company and looked at my sleeping siblings wondering when they would wake up, I would begin to get bored and tired. Thus I would have gone back to sleep by the time they began rising for their “normal” day.

    I have observed similar alertness in my niece and nephew who are considered intellectually gifted students.

    • arita trahan | Dec 3, 2013 at 6:42 am |

      my urge to write during the early morning hours is so satisfying.
      I love waking up thoroughly rested and inspired .

  18. Some of us with newborns/babies still have two sleeps. Can’t believe breastfeeding wasn’t even mentioned here, as either a cause or reason for the practice, or as an “activity” in the night. Working class folks had lots of kids you said? Well that’s lots of nighttime feeds. You go to sleep with the baby, wake up when they’re hungry in the middle of the night, then go back to sleep until morning.

    • Cid Hennessy | Dec 2, 2013 at 4:51 pm |

      Excellent point. The author also neglected tending the fire. Electricity brought us more than light and iPhones.

    • CATRYNA49 | Dec 3, 2013 at 9:21 am |

      Just exactly what I was thinking.

    • more generally, the author ignores any idea that would indicate people woke up because they had a task to perform. this would contradict his idea that we’re “naturally” bi-modal sleepers and modern life has changed us.

    • Linda Daube | Dec 4, 2013 at 11:39 pm |

      Very good point; in the years that my 3 were babies, I followed their schedule. I have since come to realize that I need to follow that schedule for myself now (I’m 61). I attend to the needs of my body on its schedule; I sleep when I’m tired and eat when I’m hungry, the rest of the time I’m alert and available for the needs of the others in my care.

  19. Try telling this to a hard-working man ,or woman, who gets up at 5am , goes to the job and gets home at 6pm. Two sleeps me arse!

    • drklassen | Nov 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm |

      The story implies getting at at 5am was normal then, too. It said the would get up at dawn. You just have to get to bed at 8:30pm.

      • Accipiter | Dec 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm |

        In which case you basically go to work, come home, eat, shower, and go straight to bed. A life of nothing but working and sleeping with no time for anything else.

        • actually no, because you get a couple hours in the middle of the night to other activities. you can do the things you normally would do after before bed during those wakeful hours in the night between “sleeps”

        • marshefen | Dec 2, 2013 at 10:29 pm |

          Except sex with the neighbors at 2am!

        • MauiShadow | Dec 3, 2013 at 3:15 am |

          Unfortunately that describes the lives of a large percentage of the human race.

  20. Melissha Southard | Sep 2, 2013 at 9:57 pm |

    Wow! I’ve suffered from insomnia most of my life, even as a child. In just the past 3-4 years I’ve been able to have a pattern. I’ve noticed myself doing this. I sometimes look forward to an hour or two for myself early hours, then back to bed for a few more. Fascinating!

  21. during winter night came early..candles were expensive in those days.did you know one time candles were dfferent then a electric bill today. of course living on a farm and rendering lard and having tallow meant you had your own candles but, being a chore in did not waste.. early to bed..most had to get up 4am to feed livestock then come in to breakfast.

  22. I’m glad the author told us this way of sleeping was “completely ubiquitous.” I was afraid it was just partially ubiquitous.

  23. MatthewTanner | Dec 1, 2013 at 6:27 pm |

    Completely redundant.

  24. MatthewTanner | Dec 1, 2013 at 6:27 pm |

    Completely redundant.

  25. Livestock will generally wait until daylight to feed, especially when they have no choice. Lactating dairy cows with swollen utters won’t, however; they’ll dry up.

  26. Kamilla Vaski | Dec 2, 2013 at 2:36 am |

    If many people began to do this, it would be a revolutionary act…but the key is to get a lot of people doing it…

  27. Catherine Simmons | Dec 2, 2013 at 5:19 am |

    Only just come across this article, but what I want to know is: how did our ancestors sleep in summer, when there is so much more daylight?

  28. Aurora Nox | Dec 2, 2013 at 7:53 am |

    Interesting, we have way too much going on these days and it overwhelms our systems…And often for no good reason. Often I feel more creative at night. Especially people that don’t meditate could benefit from this to step back and have a few calm hours of contemplation. Personally I contemplate more than most probably, but I think most don’t have the time to even do that during the day because there is always something going on. Why do we always need to have something going on? The answer is, we don’t and it would benefit us not to.

  29. Tony O'Dell | Dec 2, 2013 at 1:22 pm |

    After a 5 day weekend with holiday mixed in, I fell asleep at 10:00 last night, woke up at 2 for about an hour..laid in bed and just thought about what this week is bringing, fell back asleep around 4, and woke up without my alarm clock this morning at 8. I do this all the time when I’m not stressed and well-rested….I love that I stumbled onto this article… I always wondered if it was just me…

  30. Darby O' Gill | Dec 2, 2013 at 2:57 pm |

    “Two sleeps” is about the most irritating fucking expression I have ever heard. Not sure why, it just destroys my mind. Two Sleeps ^_^

  31. Heather Kay | Dec 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm |

    Funny but this weekend I had a phone call at 2am (we have a 24 hour emergency repair service in our company), I passed the info on to the empolyee local to the call out and then was too awake to sleep, I read for an hour or two and then went back to sleep for 4 hours or so. I woke feeling refreshed… I also for a winter season worked a full 8-10 hour day and then did a 4 hour night shift, I found that the best sleeping times are 10-15 minutes, 1 hour or 4 hours, so maybe this concept of 4 hours a break and then 4 hours actually coincides with an ideal sleep…

  32. Kind of like second breakfast?

  33. bugeye58 | Dec 2, 2013 at 9:40 pm |

    I’m still dialed into this sleep patter. I don’t go visit my neighbors, but will sit up reading or be on the computer for a couple of hours before going back to bed.

  34. Brett Simcock | Dec 3, 2013 at 4:14 am |

    I know I wake up at least once during the night… I would think most people do… Makes sense…

  35. missskeptic | Dec 3, 2013 at 7:20 am |

    I dislike the flippant way the author says “…later take one of our attention deficit disorder-afflicted son’s Ritalin pills to wake up the next morning…” Ritalin does not “wake you up.” For a person (male or female) with true ADHD, Ritalin calms the mind so it is not racing. It may wake up someone who does not have ADHD, but it has the opposite effect on those who do have it. Anyone who steals needed drugs from a child is a real lowlife,

  36. Yeah well for many of us commuters that would mean having to make it to bed before 7 pm. Good luck for that.

  37. Jacob Gellman | Dec 3, 2013 at 7:55 am |

    This is awesome.

  38. PoliticsMinistry | Dec 3, 2013 at 8:15 am |

    I found this extremely interesting, as I have always thought that I had a problem. I consistently wake up after 3-5 hours of sleep. Usually I lay there and try to fight it, but sometimes I get up and read, watch television or other things. I found that I would sleep better after getting up for an hour or two and then going back to sleep. However, I still felt that I was supposed to fight it and go back to sleep. Wow! Here I thought something was wrong with my time clock, but it’s the time clock of the rest of the world that is messed up.

  39. Steve Hill | Dec 3, 2013 at 9:17 am |

    This is illuminating for me…I often sleep for about 5 hours, then am up for one or 2, then sleep for a couple more. If I use the waking time to read, I fall back to sleep within an hour. If I fire up the laptop, I’m usually up for a couple of hours.

  40. CATRYNA49 | Dec 3, 2013 at 9:25 am |

    Sleeping and dreaming can be quite the adventure. As a child, my brothers and I would dream in tandem and even dream of future events. When my children arrived, one of them and I began the same adventure.

  41. CATRYNA49 | Dec 3, 2013 at 9:29 am |

    Maybe I should give this a try. Rarely am I able to sleep more than 5 or 6 hours at a stretch and so I find myself staying up until 11pm or so, in order to sleep until 4am or 5am, instead of waking at 2am or 3am. It’s worth a try.

  42. alfredo_tomato | Dec 3, 2013 at 10:50 am |

    Back when our ancestors roamed the savannahs, it might have been a good idea to have at least on person awake to look out for predators or to stoke the fire. Was REM actually periods of wakefulness to ensure at least one pair of eyes keeping watch?

  43. DolphinsRuleAll | Dec 3, 2013 at 10:54 am |

    I’ve been living like this for quite awhile, I just never knew there was a name for it, or a historical precedent for that matter. I can’t remember the last time I slept for more than 4 hours at a time. I guess I should’ve been born in the 18th century.

  44. Robert Anderson | Dec 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm |

    My grandparents did this. they worked hard during the day so by 7:30PM they where ready for bed. they would wake up 1Am have a little toast and milk then go back to bed around 3am and where up again at 6am.

  45. Very interesting! I have developed a polyphasic sleep pattern that has helped me tremendously. I get only 4 hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle. Check it out:

  46. humans might have evolved with the task to be performed constantly present throughout evolution, creating the bi-modal rhythm. meaning if it’s due to some ancient task it doesn’t mean it’s not real. In contrast, modern live simply didn’t have enough time to let our hard wiring evolve.

  47. halhurst | Dec 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm |

    I frequently find myself awake at 2-3AM. Nice to know I have company. Can I come over to your house for some milk and cookies next time?

  48. Tiffany Roney | Dec 3, 2013 at 9:24 pm |

    key time practice…. sabbath! one day a week to pray, play, and rest.

  49. KrisDStar | Dec 4, 2013 at 6:57 am |

    Maybe we are naturally bi modal in sleep because we had to wake to care for infants before candles and books and neighbors to visit in the night.

  50. Missing from what I’ve read so far, also, is the common monastic prayer schedule of the Middle Ages, still retained by some monasteries today. Monks would gather to pray 7 times a day. Of interest here is the night-time schedule: Compline at bed-time (perhaps 7:30 or 8:00), Vigils at midnight or later, Lauds at dawn. Sounds like Vigils would happen between first and second sleep.

  51. I started sleeping this way as a mother and graduate student. I was too tired to do my homework when putting my son to bed, so I would sleep a few hours, get up and do my homework, and then go back to bed until morning. Now that I’ve graduated, I have continued this pattern and either do work (as a freelance editor) or watch TV and crochet if nothing else is pressing for my time. As a stay at home mother there’s really nothing controlling when and how I sleep. When my son goes to school next year things will most likely change.

  52. When I worked the night shift I bi-modal slept so that I could get sunshine. I would get home at 8:00 am sleep till noon go out in the sun, walk the dogs and read then go to sleep again at 3:30 till I took my shower to go to work for the evening.

    To bad my husband was away, afternoon delight would have been a nice addition.

  53. I think the reason for this is firstly the obvious: a lack of electricity that made it easier to save on resources by not staying up as late and secondly, most industrial societies were at that time rural societies, the majority of the people were living a rural existence, and they would be up at 4 a.m. etc. to feed livestock, etc. roosters start crowing just at the crack of dawn for example…impossible to sleep through actually, and this would be why. Electricity changed our habits, electric lights and the move to the cities and thousands of years of habit changed.

  54. Dawn Panda | Dec 5, 2013 at 1:50 am |

    Elderly people often wake up in the middle of the night. Most of them find it alarming though, thinking it means something is wrong with them. This’ll be a nice anecdote to share!

  55. Thomas Edison was the most influential person to walk the planet

  56. thewlyno | Dec 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm |

    I do this every Thanksgiving…what’s the problem?

  57. Edward Royce | Dec 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm |

    Actually this habit of two sleeps is very prevalent in healthcare patients. As someone currently going through physical rehabilitation I have found myself drifting into the habit of having two sleeps; Often I will sleep to about midnight and then fall back asleep after reading some at around 3am. Frankly I feel far more refreshed doing so and I wonder if it aids in healing and recovery.

  58. In the early 1900s, didn’t most northerners have to get up around 2 am, at least in the winter, to feed the furnaces? BS – before stokers.

    • crosspatch | Dec 7, 2013 at 12:07 am |

      Yes. One could not let the fires go completely out during the night even in summer lest it would be harder to get things going in the morning for cooking. So in the middle of the night the fire would also be tended.

  59. Fascinating article. I was supposed to be born in November but was born in December. My mother said I was a 10 lunar month baby and I often wonder if that has had an impact on my life.

  60. Findo Gask | Dec 8, 2013 at 8:49 pm |

    I have been doing this since I was young, and my parents tried to have me committed for it. I hope this info reaches (and is accepted by) the psychological community before they can do any more harm.

  61. LoveYourDNA | Dec 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm |

    Works well for me!

  62. Rhondayes | Dec 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm |

    He’s preaching to the choir. I do this now. I sleep deeply and thoroughly the first part of the evening. Wake in the middle raring to go. No fucking to be done. I’ll FB, do a bit of laundry, read a book, do some research, a bit of writing, and catch up on television or a movie I missed. Then, I’m off to sleep for a few more hours.

  63. The question that I would ask is, “Who are WE”? Is this Euro/American-centric? Is it farmers only? Does it include the industrialized folk after the Ind Rev came along? And then the question is why for each different group it was the same …. or different.

  64. waldenpunk | Dec 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm |

    My wife and I are always waking up in the middle of the night to have sex! Seems normal enough to me!

  65. spookbythefridge | Dec 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm |

    our behavior has been progressively modified over the centuries through
    machinations of the conquerors. they treat us like wildlife, using all
    the principles of ecology and celestial cycles against us.

  66. [[But we can’t go back to a pre-electric lifestyle of early-to-bed,

    It’s impossible to do consistently, because of the need to associate with our fellow human beings, some of which takes place at night. But on days when I have no social schedule, I often eschew electric light, live from sun to sun and use an oil lamp. And yes, wake up in the middle of the night for a bit and then go back to sleep. The feeling of total relaxation is enormous.

  67. in islam we are ancouraged to wake up at night and pray to god, God syas in the Qura’an :

    O you who wraps himself [in clothing and covers] * Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little -*
    Half of it – or subtract from it a little* Or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation.*
    Indeed, We will cast upon you a heavy word.* Indeed, the hours of the night are more effective for concurrence [of heart and tongue] and more suitable for words.*

  68. I’m an Orthodox Christian, and our prayer books still have a section entitled “midnight prayers”. I’ve always thought that was weird – I mean, a whole bunch of special prayers just on the off chance you happen to be awake in the middle of the night? Who came up with that idea?

    But now I know why they exist.

  69. Unlicensed Dremel | Dec 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm |

    I’d probably have tried to combine two of the more popular activities – by visiting neighbors in order to have sex with them.

  70. if i stay up late till about 2 am, i cant go back to sleep until 3.30 or 4 am. maybe thats related to bimodal sleep

  71. Okay, then bottom line is, I have to fuck my neighbor every morning. Sound fucking good.

  72. Richard Ly | Nov 18, 2014 at 9:50 am |

    The thing that is kind of freaky is that in christianity, 3am is supposedly the devil’s hour. And mostly people who wake up from their first sleep is around this time. I find that very interesting. If anyone has any understandings on that please share.

    Also, I know that in some traditional cultures people developed a biphasic sleep pattern of taking a nap in the afternoon. Instead of
    sleeping two chunks at night, they slept once at night then a chunk in the afternoon. So which biphasic sleep pattern is more natural?

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