The myth of the eight-hour sleep
The myth of the eight -hour sleep is a brilliant article on a history of human sleep patterns. 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.
…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.
These references start to disappear during the late 17th Century. By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness. Doctors urge parents to force their children out of the pattern. At this point, people have become increasingly time-conscious and sensitive to ideas of efficiency and are recommended to sleep in an 8 hour block.
Why were people encouraged to sleep in an essentially unnatural manner? At the turn of the century, with the help of photography, criminals could be more easily tracked and archived so perhaps it was to keep people off the streets and on the straight and narrow. Perhaps it was to ensure that the working masses could work long shifts at the factories?
I wake up every night and feel the need to get up and have a drink, read, go online etc. After reading this article, I am starting to understand that my night time habits are actually more natural than most of my friends.
Hurra for the bi-modal sleep pattern!