Day 18: Segmented Sleep

It's 4am and I've been up for exactly one hour. What am I doing up? I have no idea!! This experiment is totally screwing me up. Is it the worst experiment ever or what? I sort of hate how disruptive it is but then again, I appreciate how truly experimental this month is. I'm actually learning about the way I function with or without sleep, an activity I spend most of my life doing. At the very least it's interesting. 

After a few days of paying off sleep debt, I decided last night to get back on my 5:30am schedule. I set my alarm and I naturally woke up tonight at 3am. I usually get up in the middle of the night to pee but then I go straight back to bed. This time I felt the need to just follow the rhythm of my body and see what happens if I stay up for a little while. I remember reading a book called Daily Rituals about how notable artists and writers organize their day and I was astonished by the number of early risers.  

"One of my favorite habits from the Daily Rituals research came from Nicholson Baker, who also prefers to work just after waking. “The mind is newly cleansed but it’s also befuddled and you’re still just plain sleepy,” he told me in an interview. “I found that I wrote differently then.” Baker likes this feeling so much that he developed a strategy to squeeze two mornings out of one day. He will get up around 4 or 4:30 a.m. and write for an hour and a half—but then he goes back to sleep until 8:30 and gets up again, this time turning his attention to “daylight kind of work,” like transcribing an interview or editing what he wrote during the first morning session."

All these writers must be on to something because I have almost effortlessly knocked out four of these posts in the last hour. Maybe I'm not interested in a month of mornings, more a month of segmented sleeping? And upon further middle-of-the-night-investigation, I'm finding out that the eight-hour sleep is actually a myth.  

"In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep."

Historical texts and literature indicated first and second sleep was commonplace before the invention of electricity, late night coffeehouses and the industrial revolution. Some sleep specialists suggest that the transition to the eight-hour sleep cycle took away the essential 1-2 hours of wakeful rest and relaxation needed to keep a society healthy. 

"In many historical accounts, Ekirch found that people used the time to meditate on their dreams. "Today we spend less time doing those things," says Dr Jacobs. "It's not a coincidence that, in modern life, the number of people who report anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse has gone up."

It's now 5am and it's unlikely that I'll get up or stay up for my 5:30am alarm. I'm ok with it. It's time for my second sleep. Good night!

P.S. Another great article on broken sleep and creativity and another article on things people do between first and second sleep.