When it comes to sleep, are we doing it all wrong?

When it comes to sleep, are we doing it all wrong?

It turns out when it comes to sleeping, we may be doing it all wrong.

According to a study from two Australian researchers, we should be sleeping twice a day in shorter chunks instead of one long period of time. They found that having two separate sleep periods provided “two periods of increased activity, creativity and alertness across the day, rather than having a long wake period where sleepiness builds up… and productivity wanes.”

Having two separate sleep times wasn’t always out of the ordinary. “Anthropologists have found evidence that during pre-industrial Europe, bi-modal sleeping was considered the norm,” the researchers noted in an article for the Conversation.

They quoted a passage in Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, published in 1840, where a character refers to the idea of a “first” and “second” sleep.

This is also not the first time split sleep schedules have been proposed. In the early 1990’s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted a month long experiment where people were left in darkness for 14 hours a day. By week four, a distinct two-phase sleep pattern emerged, where participants would sleep for four hours, be up for one to three hours and then sleep for another four hour period. He concluded from these findings that bi-phasic sleep was a natural process with a biological basis.

So have we being doing it wrong all along?

Dr. Darius Loghmanee, a sleep specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital and Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., isn’t surprised by the research.

“Sleep is a biological drive, just like eating. How we sleep, just like how we eat, is not solely dictated by physiology; it is shaped by our environment as well,” he says. “After years of insisting that Western society has identified the optimal human sleep pattern, there is a growing body of literature that suggests that limiting sleep to a single nocturnal sleep period may have a deleterious effect on health and well-being.”

But he also warns that “we should be careful, however, not to repeat the mistake and suggest that, given this new data, we should all move to a two-phase sleep cycle. In order to achieve optimal sleep health, each individual must consider how they will meet their sleep needs given their own unique life circumstances.”

Some of the benefits of a split sleep schedule include:

  • More flexibility with work and family time
  • Reduced prevalence of insomnia
  • An alternative for people who work night shifts
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved mood states
  • Benefits for memory and learning

Dr. Loghmanee believes that as individuals, communities and institutions begin to recognize the benefits conferred by sleep health, there will be shifts in policy. Many workplaces already offer nap places in the workplace, but could more flexible work schedules and delayed school start times for children be the next step?

Only time will tell. Nap lovers, stay tuned.

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About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is a former manager, media relations at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.