It's a common misconception that the only way to sleep is to stay in bed for seven to eight straight hours until you're done. If you have trouble staying asleep for that long, try sleeping twice at night. Photo by Orangeaurochs.
As sleep researchers Dr Melinda Jackson and Dr Siobhan Banks write in The Conversation, the notion of staying asleep for one long period of time isn't the only way that humans have slept. In fact, it may have once been the norm to sleep for a few hours at dusk, wake up for a short time in the middle of the night, then sleep again until morning. This is referred to as a bi-modal sleep schedule. For those who have difficulty staying asleep at night, getting up once you wake up once might make the most sense:
Anthropologists have found evidence that during preindustrial Europe, bi-modal sleeping was considered the norm. Sleep onset was determined not by a set bedtime, but by whether there were things to do. Historian A. Roger Ekirch's book At day's close: night in times past describes how households at this time retired a couple of hours after dusk, woke a few hours later for one to two hours, and then had a second sleep until dawn.
During this waking period, people would relax, ponder their dreams or have sex. Some would engage in activities like sewing, chopping wood or reading, relying on the light of the moon or oil lamps.
Of course, if you're already sleeping well and feel rested during the day, there's no reason to change your patterns. However, if you're struggling to get the sleep you need, it may be worth considering if the stereotypical model works for you. If you frequently wake up during the middle of the night, try getting up to do something rather than staring at the ceiling.
Did we used to have two sleeps rather than one? Should we again [The Conversation via Inc.]