Tags:


Early to bed, early to rise
February 23, 2012 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Adults needing 8 consecutive hours of sleep every night is a common, generally unquestioned bit of medical wisdom that we are all familiar with. Is it really true?
posted by COD (98 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
God, I hope not. On the other hand it would be nice.

/has two kids.
posted by Artw at 6:02 AM on February 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Needing as in can't live without? I haven't had more than five to six hours of sleep a night (without the aid of alcohol, which is bad sleep, they say) in probably five or six years. Not currently dead, though I occasionally look freshly risen.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:03 AM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Personally, I function best with 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Which is pretty much impossible when you have to get up at 5:00 AM.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:04 AM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can remember that first/second sleep thing being discussed here before. It seems commonsensical to me that people can have several forms of "normal" sleep, depending on their situation and in response to environmental and social cues. I am reminded of the example (also the subject of an FPP, I think) of peasants in ye olde Europe basically going to bed all winter, as a response to cold, dark, and limited food. That would be "normal" in that context, but highly odd in today's world of electric light, central heating, and extraordinarily cheap food.

Just within this house, I wake up day after day, no alarm clock, after about six hours; my partner needs at least eight and would probably be happiest with ten or more.
posted by Forktine at 6:09 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Modern work+commute times gets in the way of eight hours anyway. I'm up at six am, then not home until seven pm or later. Eight hours of sleep would require me to go to bed three hours after getting home, which is no fun, especially since Mrs. Ghidorah usually doesn't get home from her job until 9:30. Of course, she gets to sleep til 7:30 in the morning.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:10 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to sleep a lot but some time after college I noticed I felt like boiled crap when I slept in. Plus years of early commutes has left me popping wide awake around 5 every morning (sometimes up an hour earlier). I "go to bed" at 10, but usually don't really try to sleep until 10:30. So that's...5.5-6.5 hours/night and I feel just fine.

However, those are true sleep hours. When I close my eyes, I'm asleep within literally seconds and I usually don't wake up in the middle of the night. I some times GET up to soothe a child, but I don't WAKE up.
posted by DU at 6:11 AM on February 23, 2012


Hmm. Well, I have segmented sleep as proposed by the article pretty much down, but it's not. 8 hours slit up, sadly.

/yawns. A lot.
posted by Artw at 6:11 AM on February 23, 2012


I wake up in the middle of the night a lot. I used to think it was my conscience bothering me for all those murders I did back in the 80s (like I did something wrong!), but, apparently, it's natural! That's a load off my mind!

Slightly more seriously, I expect that the "8 hours all in one go" fits the needs of a modern economy better, so to heck with what our bodies/brains want. It's also the reason why we don't get siestas, either. I have been suggesting a program to my Dean for quite a while -- we close the library from noon-1pm every day. We lie on mats in the large meeting room while he reads us a story. If we behave, we get juice and cookies at the end. So far, he has refused to endorse my eminently sensible plan, but then he's just a lackey of the Industrial-Education Complex!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:13 AM on February 23, 2012 [42 favorites]


I think everybody's different. I need a minimum of eight to feel rested, although I can function on six. Less than four and I basically start throwing up.
posted by LN at 6:13 AM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Got to get my Lovely Twelve, hoss.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:13 AM on February 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I some times GET up to soothe a child, but I don't WAKE up.

The Sleep Maintenance Disorder thing that's mentioned? That pretty much happens to me if I wake all the way up.
posted by Artw at 6:13 AM on February 23, 2012


Every person tends to be different and can function to a varying degree based on how much sleep they had. I think a regular sleep schedule is more important then the exact amount of hours you get.
posted by opi at 6:15 AM on February 23, 2012


I still note, from the article, that even when people woke up for a couple hours in the middle of the night and went back to sleep, they still had a total of eight hours' worth of sleep (five hours first and three later, or four hours and then four hours, etc.).

I don't think many people have that luxury today; when I was going to sleep at 10 pm and then waking up at 2 and staying awake until 4, it wasn't "oh no I've woken up" that was making me nuts, it was "CRAP I'm going to have to get up and get ready for work at 6:30 and the longer I stay awake the less total sleep I'm going to get HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DEAL WITH THIS." My boss wouldn't have been happy about my regularly saying "sorry, I woke up in the middle of the night, I had to go back to sleep for the rest of the 8 hours and so I didn't wake up until 9 am and I'll be in at 11."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 AM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the key point from this article, which I worked out quite a while ago, is not to stress out if you wake up at 3AM and can't immediately get back to sleep. If I haven't got back to sleep within 15 minutes or so, I read a book for a bit, or get up, fiddle around, get some fresh night-air on the balcony, then try to get some more sleep. Unfortunately often I can't get back to sleep until 5 or 6, which sucks when I have to get up at 7.
posted by Diag at 6:16 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I used to get 8 hours every night, when I was telecommuting. Back in Oct I started commuting 2 hours each way. So I still go to bed at 11:15 (after the first two Daily Show segments) and then usually read for 15 minutes or so before going to sleep. But since Oct. I've been getting up at 5:30 instead of the 7 AM that was typical for the previous 7 years. I haven't noticed any negative effects.
posted by COD at 6:17 AM on February 23, 2012


I can remember that first/second sleep thing being discussed here before.

There was a surprisingly vigorous discussion of it starting about here.
posted by TedW at 6:20 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I heard about the "second sleep" thing a couple of years ago. It freed me to be able to get up and be awake for a while when I do end up with split sleep patterns, rather than lie in bed and toss and turn trying to get back to sleep. So that was a good thing.

However, I really only fall into those sleep patterns when I'm not being awakened by an alarm every morning.
posted by hippybear at 6:20 AM on February 23, 2012


'"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."'

That's quite a big leap. There are just a few other things that can explain those facts other than changes in sleep patterns.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:22 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's easy to blame commuting(because pretty much everyone hates it), but I'm not sure that much of it is commuting's fault. If we imagine a pre-industrial farmer, he was probably getting up as early as you do to make your two hour commute (or earlier). What he wasn't doing was staying up much past dark. It's in the article, but I think the real cause here is artificial light.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:23 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


And these hours weren't entirely solitary - people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

A doctor's manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day's labour but "after the first sleep", when "they have more enjoyment" and "do it better".


Oh, hell yeah. I love a good middle of the night sexing. It's better than morning sex - you get to go back to sleep afterward.
posted by I am the Walrus at 6:23 AM on February 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


This is another example of how when we find a 'treatment' for something inconvenient it becomes a 'disorder'. Can't sleep all night? Oh, you have a sleep discorder, take these pills.
posted by empath at 6:23 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I make it my mission to take missed hours of night time sleep during meetings. It works very well, though you have to be careful not to drool and slip out of the chair. I also have to rely on colleagues to poke me awake for important votes.

It doesn't surprise me that we're not set up to sleep as the modern world wants us to (which is, as far as I can tell, as little as possible). It is remarkable the way some people celebrate hardly sleeping and repeated gnawing away at the few hours of downtime they get.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:24 AM on February 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


These kinds of "you really don't need to sleep as much as you think" articles seem to pop-up regularly, and I can't help shake the feeling they are somehow serving a darker purpose to obliquely convince people that working longer and longer hours is, perhaps, preferable. I also think the reason so many of us awake throughout the night is because work pressures keep your brain churning and interfering with necessary rest.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on February 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think the key point from this article, which I worked out quite a while ago, is not to stress out if you wake up at 3AM and can't immediately get back to sleep.

I used to stress out when I'd wake up in the middle of the night, until I mentioned it to my brother. His response was that when he woke up in the middle of the night and discovered it was 2AM, he was actually really happy because he would get to sleep for several more hours! For whatever reason, that stuck, and really reduced how often I end up lying there waiting for the alarm clock for four hours.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:25 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think many people have that luxury today...

Today? They had an even harder time of it before the regulation of the 8 hr work day. Of course, that's been chipped away at both legally and culturally so hardly anyone sticks to it anymore. More and stronger unions are needed.
posted by DU at 6:25 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


It is remarkable the way some people celebrate hardly sleeping and repeated gnawing away at the few hours of downtime they get.

I recommend you do not start following "Totes McGotes" on Twitter.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:25 AM on February 23, 2012


Is it here where I gloat that with a fifteen-minute walking commute to work, I roll out of bed at 8:22, having gone to sleep pretty much whenever I eventually felt like it?
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:26 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn, I want to be having sex in the middle of the night, and I want it now.
posted by Segundus at 6:26 AM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


If I wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep, then I usually go play SWTOR or Dominion or Skyrim or something, you know just for an hour or so. And then when the sun creeps over the horizon and I'm still clicking away I think: "Oh man is today going to be painful".

This is why now I'd rather just lie in bed thinking than get up, the temptation to get a few uninterrupted hours of video gaming i just too strong.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:27 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The article talks about "night" sleep, but doesn't consider mid-day naps.

Churchill, LBJ, Bonaparte, and many others had a habit of taking a mid-day nap which enabled them to work late into the evening - and up early the next day.

As Churchill remarked: “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

An eight hour stretch is modern convenience, but I would far prefer to be able to take a mid-day nap.
posted by three blind mice at 6:27 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I spent about six years sleeping an average of about five hours a night in highly erratic patterns. Usually I slept 3-6 during the week and caught up on the weekend, but it was anyone's guess as to when that sleep took place. A lot of the times it was a quick nap at 2 PM in lieu of that class I hate anyway and then another nap at somewhere around 3 AM when I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore, with lots of all nighters here and there. It got to the point where my sleeping habits actually preceded me as a reputation.

Now I can't really function on anything less than six solid hours of sleep per night. I can stay awake in a pinch--I only got four hours last night--but don't expect me to be efficient. I think it's my body rebelling against years of mistreatment and telling me where to shove it, but it could also just be that my work is really dull. College (for a teetotaling overachiever) may be exhausting, but it was also a constantly changing environment, and when you had a new class to go to or a new meeting to prepare every 80 minutes, you have to stay on your toes.
posted by Phire at 6:29 AM on February 23, 2012


(And to speak to what lesbiassparrow was referring to - within my social circles there was a really perverse sense of pride in being able to function in a minimal amount of sleep that I'm trying really hard to fight against. In many ways, it's a symptom of a sick system, right? "Look, I can torture myself more than you can, your suffering pales in comparison to mine.")
posted by Phire at 6:33 AM on February 23, 2012


Frankly, I feel like rubbish if I sleep for more than 6-7 hours. Though on the other hand I sometimes doze off mid afternoon while reading journal articles, but to be fair they're generally pretty boring ones.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:35 AM on February 23, 2012


It is remarkable the way some people celebrate hardly sleeping and repeated gnawing away at the few hours of downtime they get.

I don't know about everyone else, but I don't donate my extra hours of non-sleep to my workplace. If I get up early, I make bread or do some (very quiet) cleaning. Or read. If I stay up late, I do the same.

I have a very strict limit on when I leave work. Oh, your meeting runs 20 minutes later than when I usually leave? I guess I'll have to miss the end. You can tell me what I missed tomorrow.
posted by DU at 6:37 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I get about 8.5 a night, not counting the 3am cat wake up call, the 4am cat wake up call, etc.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:42 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


One weird thing I always think about when this topic comes up is sleep deprivation as a treatment for depression.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:42 AM on February 23, 2012


The article doesn't talk about getting less than 8 hours sleep a night, just adding in an hour or two of wakefulness in the middle of the night -- which means going to bed much earlier and waking up much later than most of us care to do. I know the Hadza (hunter gatherers) wake up in the middle of the night, eat something, tend the fire, hang out, then go back to sleep. But again, when the sun dictates when you can be productive it's easier to get to bed earlier and wake up later.
posted by antinomia at 6:43 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's weird that modern society has tied us to the clock, since with artificial light, we're not bound to the sun. Theoretically, it should be easier in this day and age to sleep whatever cycles are normal. Unfortunately, we still have the factory mentality for work, and we must all clock in and out at the same time.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:56 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I sleep when I'm tired. Don't need no more science than that.
posted by saucygit at 6:57 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


We are already a country of sleep deprived worker zombies. This article is not helpful.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:57 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the greatest luxuries of not being in grad school any more is the ability to slink away and fall into blissful hours with my pillows, night after night, without having to count amphora sherd distributions in my head.


Then again I also fall asleep in cars, on buses, planes, and weirder forms of public transportation so I suspect most people wouldn't consider baby sloths their spirit animal...
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:59 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, don't knock meds. I used to have horrible insomnia-- up until 3 or 4 in the morning more often than not because my brain just. wouldn't. shut up. Went on meds for anxiety, and now I'm in bed at 10:30, out by 11, and sleep through the night like a baby. Only problem is that I actually would like to sleep even more-- my meds make me a little tired, and it's sometimes hard to get up in the morning. But I'll take that over racing thoughts at 4 AM any day.
posted by nonasuch at 7:01 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suffer from a clinical anxiety deficit. The only time I can any of my requisite anxiety done is during that waking period in the middle of the night. This when I am likely to repeat, "God help me!" So I can confirm that the two segment method does encourage religious thoughts.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:02 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a good sleeper with meds and was an exhausted non-sleeper without them. So disorders are a real thing.

The only thing disordered about my sleep now is the two 14-pound cats fighting over who gets to sleep on my pillow all night long. Sometimes I wake up and they are both on my pillow, all cuddled up together, blissfully asleep, while I have one tiny corner pillow scrap to use for myself.
posted by something something at 7:07 AM on February 23, 2012


we're not bound to the sun

Sayeth you who probably live in the lower latitudes.

The length of the day here at 60 degrees north latitude reminds me every season how closely my sleep cycle is bound to the sun. The amount of daylight one receives during "daylight" hours is a big factor. I know that 22 hours of brilliant, bright daylight at the peak of summer and only 2 hours of pale, grey "daylight" in the depth of winter wreaks havoc on my sleep-cycle.
posted by three blind mice at 7:10 AM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Cracked had this a year ago. [Via Metafilter] (It's list item #4)
posted by chavenet at 7:25 AM on February 23, 2012


But I'll take that over racing thoughts at 4 AM any day.

Yeah, I just get up, get some coffee and play video games or work on music when that happens. Then I actually make it to work on time.
posted by empath at 7:25 AM on February 23, 2012


All those times in the Psalms or other religious literature when they're talking about "meditating day and night" or just generally suggesting that people were doing stuff at all hours of the night? It's probably because they were.

Remember, before the invention of electric lights, most people really had very little to do between sunset and sunrise--other than activities which explain why historic birth rates are higher than ours--so people basically just went to bed. But if you're actually taking that much time to rest, you naturally wind up sleeping for four or five hours, waking up for one or two, and then sleeping for another four or five.

So when medieval monks gathered for midnight prayer? It wasn't because they were deliberately going out of their way to be pious by disrupting their sleep cycles, it's because, heck, we're all up around now anyway, may as well get some praying in. There was also the sense that these waking night-time hours, which would otherwise probably be used for idleness or who-knows-what-else, would be better spent in prayer, but again, only because you were going to be up anyways. It isn't like you have anything better to do.
posted by valkyryn at 7:41 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I loved this article. For once, I feel normal. I don't have to be frustrated and anxiety-ridden because I woke up after four hours and stayed awake for 1 or 2 before dropping back off to sleep. I don't have to keep taking sleeping pills to keep me asleep all night long. This just may be how I function and I take great comfort in that. I like that perhaps when I wake up in the middle of the night I can process some thoughts and worries. And that maybe that time of wakefulness is actually doing me some good to put things in mental order and to work out some issues.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Back in more youthful days I enjoyed camping alone for weeks at a time. I'd shed timepieces and rely wholly on the rhythms of daylight to dictate waking and resting hours.

After a day or two, my pattern would be to fall asleep about two hours after dusk, waking roughly four hours later. I then did my best cleaning and organizing, so crucial to staying sane in a camping situation. I'd light a few lamps and some herbs and fall asleep again after perhaps two hours of activity, then rise for good with the sun.

This pattern was great because I did most nastier camp chores at night, leaving my days free for important things like watching the sunlight move through the forest.

It was always frustrating to return to electricity after those trips... my sleep patterns, which changed so quickly while camping, would take weeks to "normalize."
posted by kinnakeet at 8:03 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Damn, I want to be having sex in the middle of the night, and I want it now.

Well, make up your mind!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hate reading new research that contradicts how I think I function best. If I didn't have...life obligations, I imagine I'd sleep, like, 14 or 15 hours straight.

(And I think I'd feel pretty fantastic about it.)
posted by TropicalWalrus at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Damn, I want to be having sex in the middle of the night, and I want it now.

Well, make up your mind!


Can't you want both? I definitely want both.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


These kinds of "you really don't need to sleep as much as you think" articles seem to pop-up regularly, and I can't help shake the feeling they are somehow serving a darker purpose to obliquely convince people that working longer and longer hours is, perhaps, preferable.

Except, that's not at all what this article is saying. It's not saying that you don't need eight hours of sleep; it's saying that you don't need eight consecutive hours of sleep.
posted by asnider at 8:54 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not saying that you don't need eight hours of sleep; it's saying that you don't need eight consecutive hours of sleep.

That's true. But the takeaway is supposed to be, "so don't worry if you wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake a couple hours! It's okay!" The article doesn't explain what you're supposed to do if you don't have a lifestyle that would permit you to go back to sleep and get the rest of those eight hours.

So, yeah, you may not need eight consecutive hours, but people aren't even getting those eight hours inconsecutively.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


These kinds of "you really don't need to sleep as much as you think" articles seem to pop-up regularly, and I can't help shake the feeling they are somehow serving a darker purpose to obliquely convince people that working longer and longer hours is, perhaps, preferable.

Yeah, quite the opposite. Rather than saying "You don't need as much sleep as you think," they're implicitly saying "You don't need to sleep all eight-odd hours at a single go, but you should probably plan on a solid ten or eleven hours of inactivity on a nightly basis."

I could really get used to this, to be honest. Right now I go to bed around 9:30-10:30PM and get up around 5:30AM, taking an hour or so for myself before getting ready for work. Under this theory, I could actually go to bed at the same time, get up from 1:30AM to 2:30AM--which I sometimes do anyway--and then sleep again from 2:30AM to 6:30AM and still make it to work on time. I'd just shift some of the early morning stuff I do between getting up and getting ready for work to the middle of the night. That time's already pretty anti-social, so it's not like I was doing anything that needed to be done during daylight hours.
posted by valkyryn at 8:59 AM on February 23, 2012


The article doesn't explain what you're supposed to do if you don't have a lifestyle that would permit you to go back to sleep and get the rest of those eight hours.

Go to bed earlier?
posted by asnider at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can remember that first/second sleep thing being discussed here before.

It was a Cracked article last year. The historical research from Ekirch is from 2001, so it's likely been mentioned many times.

I thought TheoPhile Escargot) brought up some good points counter to Ekirch (who is a historian, not a scientist).

Personally, I function best with 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Which is pretty much impossible when you have to get up at 5:00 AM.

Hey, me too. My alarm goes off at 5:15. I've been really trying to get to bed by 10pm every night b/c I am a night owl by nature and I have two young kids (one an infant) who wake me up in the middle of the night all the time.

Trying to have sex with my wife at some point between 8pm and midnight, and then, if successful, staying up to play until 1am or whatever will just kill my whole week (though of course it's totally worth it).

I honestly work best with around 9 hours a night, but that would mean I go to sleep at ... 8:15pm. WHEE!

But anyway, yeah, this is a double post. Modern (Western) Mistakes.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2012


Oh, hell yeah. I love a good middle of the night sexing. It's better than morning sex - you get to go back to sleep afterward.

There's no reason you can't go back to sleep in the morning too. Oh yeah, the kids ...

The article doesn't explain what you're supposed to do if you don't have a lifestyle that would permit you to go back to sleep and get the rest of those eight hours.

That's easy. Just go to bed 3 hours earlier.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:17 AM on February 23, 2012


The article doesn't explain what you're supposed to do if you don't have a lifestyle that would permit you to go back to sleep and get the rest of those eight hours.

Go to bed earlier?

Yeah, lately i've taken to going to sleep at like 7 or 8 as soon as I get home from work, then I tend to wake up somewhere between 11 or 3 and I get some writing or music done (and I've been watching MIT lectures on iTunesU, too-- those tend to put me right to sleep-- just like real college did). It kind of sucks when I don't get to sleep until like 4 or 5 and I have to be up at 7:30 but it's not like, disastrous, I just tend to sleep longer the next night.
posted by empath at 9:20 AM on February 23, 2012


Yes. This is true. I don't care what anyone says. People need rest. You can tell me stories about how you've lived for years on 4 hours of sleep a night and I can tell you stories about "statistical outliers".
posted by PuppyCat at 9:26 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's easy. Just go to bed 3 hours earlier.

Yeah, no. I go to bed at around midnight every night, and wake up at 530-600. If I go to bed at 9, I'd wake up at 230-300 and not get back to sleep until it was time to wake up anyway. *weeps*
posted by elizardbits at 9:27 AM on February 23, 2012


I don't care what anyone says. People need rest. You can tell me stories about how you've lived for years on 4 hours of sleep a night and I can tell you stories about "statistical outliers".

You didn't read the article.
posted by empath at 9:35 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whether or not they read the article, Empath, they probably read some of the other tangential comments on the issue in this thread and were responding to those.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on February 23, 2012


Go to bed earlier?

Only a half hour after you get home? When are you supposed to eat dinner?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2012


This is actually a pretty serious issue. Humans have been living with artificial light for only a small portion of their existence, after thousands of years depending on the rhythms of the sun and moon to calibrate our bodies, and we're really still figuring out what "light pollution" means for our health, as well as the effect it has on ecosystems. See here and here for some more reading on this.
posted by phantroll at 10:25 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


"sorry, I woke up in the middle of the night, I had to go back to sleep for the rest of the 8 hours and so I didn't wake up until 9 am and I'll be in at 11."

I have used this (entirely true!) excuse for arriving late to work before. I'm not proud. Or tired.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:30 AM on February 23, 2012


Early modern folks got up to all sorts of things at night - see this review of Evening's Empire: A history of the night in early modern Europe.
During the previous generation or so, elites across Europe had moved their clocks forward by several hours. No longer a time reserved for sleep, the night time was now the right time for all manner of recreational and representational purposes.
posted by zamboni at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've only been able to get away with using the "I woke up in the middle of the night and had to sleep late" excuse once.

But that was only because I woke up in the middle of the night because a squirrel had somehow gotten through my window and was running amok in my bedroom, and it took me an hour of chasing it armed with a barbecue fork and two emergency calls to animal control to quell the situation. (My boss was still laughing when I finally showed up for work.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:45 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is interesting. I need about 9 hours of sleep, but I usually wake up once after 5-6 hours. I've long learned never to take advantage of this first waking. No matter how tempting it is, it inevitably renders me a dim-witted zombie all day. Nothing will make sense, math is impossible, reading speed is sluggish, memory retrieval is terrible, my writing capacity drops to zero. Naturally, I choose not to wake up. Instead, I stick it out. I keep my eyes closed. I linger in partial-slumber for what feels like forever, but eventually I fall back to sleep. Afterwards, I wake up in about 2-3 hours later refreshed and sharp. Curiously, if I drink too much this pattern flips. I wake up 3 hours into the night, still drunk, and take it as a chance to drink some water. Afterwards, I fall sleep for another 6. But always 9.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:54 AM on February 23, 2012


Meanwhile, snooze buttons are the greatest evil ever. They make you feel SLEEPIER. SLEEPIER. WAKE UP SHEEPLE. THE SNOOZE BUTTON PROVIDES NO SNOOZE, ONLY SUFFERING.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:55 AM on February 23, 2012 [20 favorites]


Go to bed earlier?

This might be classified as a "First World Problem", but if I'm up at 5:30 to get the kids to school on time, then at work all day. home by 5:30, then off to take kid(s) to practice(s) etc, dinner at 7 if all works out, check homework, make lunches, prep for school tomorrow, do dishes, kids to bed by 8:30...

We need at least an hour to wind down, which leaves only 8...

So far we seem to be getting by on 6.5, because:
yes, Yes, YES, YES, OH GOD YES good middle of the night sexing
and then
discovered it was 2AM, he was actually really happy because he would get to sleep for several more hours
posted by ElGuapo at 10:58 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love this! It justifies my special blend of crazy. I've been doing about 5-6 hours of sleep for as long as I can remember. Lately it's really bothered me, not because I'm tired, but because I'm not sleepy at night. So I've taken to drinking LOTS of water at night, staying up as late as I want, sleeping for 3 hours or so, going pee, going online for another two hours, and then falling asleep again for another 3 or 4. It works much better than trying to sleep for 8 and only making it to 5 or 6, I find.

I should track my MeFi comment and favorite timestamps to see how well I've done with this sleeping thing over the years.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:59 AM on February 23, 2012


Meanwhile, snooze buttons are the greatest evil ever. They make you feel SLEEPIER. SLEEPIER. WAKE UP SHEEPLE. THE SNOOZE BUTTON PROVIDES NO SNOOZE, ONLY SUFFERING.

My wife is a chronic snooze button abuser and also has to get up at like 5:30 for work. My sleep cycle is thus eight hour more or less in two chucks, one six and half hours long, the other one and a half hours long.

This is not the ideal sleeping pattern, let me tell you.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:54 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


DTMFA
posted by aydeejones at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just kiddin'. I'm a snooze abuser when I'm in a low mood state, seeming to require 8-9 hours but never truly feeling rested, and otherwise spring out of bed almost involuntarily 4-6 hours after falling asleep when hypomanic. Full mania = weird patterns of 6,4,3,2,0 hours of sleep throughout the week, with the number of hours dwindling down each day and starting over again. Sometimes waking up at 3:30AM, sometimes going to bed at 3:30AM.
posted by aydeejones at 12:40 PM on February 23, 2012


Just kiddin'. I'm a snooze abuser when I'm in a low mood state, seeming to require 8-9 hours but never truly feeling rested, and otherwise spring out of bed almost involuntarily 4-6 hours after falling asleep when hypomanic. Full mania = weird patterns of 6,4,3,2,0 hours of sleep throughout the week, with the number of hours dwindling down each day and starting over again. Sometimes waking up at 3:30AM, sometimes going to bed at 3:30AM.

My that's an elaborate sock puppet you've got there, sweetheart.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:46 PM on February 23, 2012


OK, my "go to bed" earlier comment may have been a bit glib. I realize that it is not necessarily possible to go to bed earlier for a lot of people (shift work, families, etc.). Certainly, Western culture doesn't encourage people to go to bed at 6 or 7pm and then wake around 11pm for a few hours of sex/reading/whatever. But, if you want to switch to this lifestyle, going to bed earlier is really the only option.

I suppose getting up later in the morning is also a possibility, but that's even less realistic for most people.
posted by asnider at 12:47 PM on February 23, 2012


Just kiddin'. I'm a snooze abuser when I'm in a low mood state, seeming to require 8-9 hours but never truly feeling rested, and otherwise spring out of bed almost involuntarily 4-6 hours after falling asleep when hypomanic. Full mania = weird patterns of 6,4,3,2,0 hours of sleep throughout the week, with the number of hours dwindling down each day and starting over again. Sometimes waking up at 3:30AM, sometimes going to bed at 3:30AM.

I tend to be like you, except that I don't get the manic states. I'm either a depressed snooze-abuser, or I'm "baseline" and can wake up more or less when my alarm goes off.
posted by asnider at 12:49 PM on February 23, 2012


People are quoting this all over as stating with certainty that this is the "natural" sleep mode and that's just BS. The study doesn't say that at all. And it takes presumably ordinary people with ordinary sleep modes and puts them suddenly into total darkness 14 hours a day -- a light condition currently found only in the highest latitudes (including Britain) for only a brief part of the year. This would mess up anyone's melatonin production. True, in days of yore only the rich could afford candles and lanterns, and the poor went to sleep early, but I truly doubt the poor could afford to miss any sleep, and if they did wake up in the middle of the night, it was probably due to hunger pains or the dying wails of their children. If the rich similarly woke up, it was probably from too much mead. And possibly also from their habit of sleeping while sitting up in bed.

I've been experiencing the hideous joys of waking for a couple of hours from 3-5AM quite a lot over the last few years, and judging by how wretched I feel during this time and for the entire day after, there's nothing natural or beneficial about it. It's made me a much more cranky person who gets half as much done as I used to do when I could actually sleep through a whole night.
posted by lphoenix at 12:54 PM on February 23, 2012


When I read the article yesterday, it reminded me of a book I read several years ago, but couldn't remember the name of. I knew that was where I'd heard about first/second sleep before.

So I posted to AskMe: "Looking for name of book about sleep" - and in less than an hour I had the answer. (It was technically not a book about sleep, but covered sleep as an aspect of consciousness.)
posted by epersonae at 1:39 PM on February 23, 2012


About three times a week I sleep for four hours, wake up for a couple of hours and then fall asleep for another two to four hours depending on whether I need to be up at a certain time or not. Without question I always feel like I'm hungover the next morning while grumpy in the knowledge that I was, at the very least, robbed of the drinking that should have caused it.
posted by hornet67 at 1:59 PM on February 23, 2012


RE: Sleeping in. I used to think that those few extra hours were wonderful, but I too found myself overly tired when I indulged.
I've found the best thing--for me--is to arise at the same time every day. Six hours or nine hours . . . makes little difference. But get up earlier or later and I'm a groggy mess for the day.
posted by ahimsakid at 2:07 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd sure like 8 hours a night, but for the last fifteen years or so my insomnia has meant that anything more than four counts as a good night's sleep. I manage okay, though, I function. If you can call this functioning.
posted by Decani at 2:54 PM on February 23, 2012


Can't sleep. Clown'll eat me.
posted by d1rge at 3:08 PM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern."
Well, I'm a throwback in a lot of ways, so...

I've always been flummoxed, transmogrified, stymied, by how we don't shift working patterns to ease other problems.
For some reason we have this standardized "8 hour work" day no matter the job or the person or whatever.
We make our biology and living patterns conform to this mechanistic style of living, and even if we did need to do it during the industrial revolution, we really don't need to. We don't run by train schedules anymore.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:13 PM on February 23, 2012


When I wake up in the middle of the night and want to get back to sleep, I think, "Oh bed, I love you soooo much!". It always brings me back to the present and helps me fall back asleep without worrying about the day ahead.
posted by shortyJBot at 3:28 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since being off work for such a long time (years and years because of health problems), I've found segmented sleep is consistently normal for me. I used to think it was insomnia, but since listening to a documentary on CBC's Ideas about sleep a few years ago (that I can no longer find), which said much the same things as this article, I'm not so sure...

I enjoy the times I'm awake in the middle of the night now. I read or craft, play quiet video games. Since I usually don't have to worry about being anywhere in the morning, it's actually nice.
posted by MelanieL at 3:30 PM on February 23, 2012


As I get older, segmented sleep seems more normal. When I need to get back to second sleep, I get in the shower as hot as I can, then a cold blast. If I do this 3-4 times (about 10 min total), I fall back asleep like I'm welded to the sheets. I learned of this by trying to mimic how well I slept when I would do saunas/sweatlodges. It's just a mini sauna w/the cold plunge. Plus, if you clean up and brush your teeth like I do in the shower (beard issues), you'll be clean and fresh for possible middle of the night Sexytime.
posted by primdehuit at 4:44 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


These sleep patterns still exist. I have an an anthropologist friend who did his field work with a tribe in the Amazon, and he has described the living the same pattern.

The family, which slept together in a single hut, would settle for best a couple of hours after dusk. Everyone would fall asleep at the same time. After four hours or so, the women would rise, stoke the fire, and make tea. The rest of the family would gather around the fire when the tea was ready, to discuss their dreams or comment on some natural even, like an owl passing. After an hour or so, everyone would resettle again until morning.

I don't remember his comments on the experience, other than that night "felt like it's own world" instead of an experience to be ignored or endured.
posted by vecchio at 5:48 PM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


My natural tendencies seem to be the opposite of this; I've often felt that the ideal schedule for me would be 20 hours up, 10 hours down, if there was any way to keep to that and stay integrated with the rest of society, which there isn't really.

Also, isn't there some evidence that the percentage of your sleep time spent in REM sleep (which may be the most restorative part of the cycle) increases dramatically after the 7-hour mark or so? Those times when I've been able to indulge a longer sleep session, those last few hours are delicious drowsy slipping in and out of dreams more vivid than those I can usually recall....the definition of bliss, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 6:49 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's easy to blame commuting(because pretty much everyone hates it), but I'm not sure that much of it is commuting's fault. If we imagine a pre-industrial farmer, he was probably getting up as early as you do to make your two hour commute (or earlier). What he wasn't doing was staying up much past dark. It's in the article, but I think the real cause here is artificial light.

The problem with commuting isn't the early hour, is the time committed to your job that you nevertheless can't spend really working. If the pre-industrial farmer had to get up two hours before reporting to the farm, and then spent two hours after work getting home, he'd been spending quite a bit of time in the dark.
posted by desuetude at 9:57 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've often felt that the ideal schedule for me would be 20 hours up, 10 hours down, if there was any way to keep to that and stay integrated with the rest of society, which there isn't really.

There was an Australian academic (Robert Elz, 'was', because I believe he is now somewhere in SE Asia) who was a bit eccentric. He ran the Australian DNS space for years and years. He ran on a 26 hour day for similar reasons to yours, a desire to have a time keeping schedule that suited him. I believe he had it written into his employment contract. So it is possible, but it must be a bugger to book a meeting with him.
posted by bystander at 11:54 PM on February 23, 2012


Apparently talk of sleep causes mefi comments to become nearly unanimously first person accounts. :)

I did a fair amount of graduate research in circadian physiology. Like a lot of science, your "gut feeling" is almost always wrong. For example, when workers were asked if they would prefer three extra long days per week with four days of break or four shorter days with three days of break per week, the choice was resounding: three super long days. The research showed, however, that people that followed such a schedule were regularly sleep deprived. Workers didn't care. They saw the dangling carrot of an extra day off. Even though they ended up wasting a lot of that "free" time readjusting their sleep schedule.

But individuals aren't always the only ones that are wrong about this. Institutions like the US Navy have also fallen prey to this "gut instinct" about sleep. In one case, they ended up with a vessel that had to be completely scrapped… they had only designed enough room for three sailors to man the controls, but once the ship was commissioned, they soon discovered that because of sleep patterns, three people was an unsuitable number to operate the vessel safely. Oopsy.
posted by readyfreddy at 11:58 PM on February 23, 2012


I need five hours of sleep every day, and eight every night.

(stolen from either Bill Hicks or the other one)
(and very interesting article, thanks!)
posted by mahershalal at 3:20 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For example, when workers were asked if they would prefer three extra long days per week with four days of break or four shorter days with three days of break per week, the choice was resounding: three super long days. The research showed, however, that people that followed such a schedule were regularly sleep deprived.
Funny you should mention that -- I was on a 9/80 schedule for a couple of years (9-hour days with an extra day off every other week), and while it was heavenly to be able to be do things for ME on my Fridays off, I was always really tired. It was much worse in the winter, FWIW.

Last fall, I switched back to a "normal" work week after being out of the office for a few weeks of conferences & vacation. I miss my extra days off -- A LOT -- but I think I am slightly better rested. Now that the sun's starting to come back, I'm trying to decide whether/how much I want those Fridays off. It's a difficult tradeoff.

Curiously, my mother -- who just retired less than a month ago -- was on a 9/80 for many years, and she loved it. She took every other Wednesday because that was the best day to get appointments with the doctor, dentist, and hairdresser. Then again, she went to bed very early most of the time.

My conclusion? 32-hour work weeks for everyone!
posted by epersonae at 9:44 AM on February 24, 2012


Yep, I switched to a 10-hour day/4 days a week schedule at my first job and went from 6:45-3:15 (with a 30-minute lunch) to 6:45-5:15.

I found that on Fridays I was waking up around 3:15pm ... the time I would normally get off work. (Of course that's because I would stay up until 4-5 am on Thursday night, however...)

When I wake up in the middle of the night and want to get back to sleep, I think, "Oh bed, I love you soooo much!". It always brings me back to the present and helps me fall back asleep without worrying about the day ahead.

Before I got into zen and meditation and learning to switch my mind off (which is incredibly helpful for me in falling asleep), that's the exact tactic I used to use to fall asleep.

I would close my eyes and imagine it was 7:15 and my mom was trying to drag me out of bed for school. If I concentrated hard and imagined how it felt like to get back in bed and sleep for another 5 minutes ("5 more minutes!"), I could make myself fall asleep again, no matter when it happened. A neat little visualization/imagination trick.

I think learning how to recognize sleep signals (I have difficulty connecting trains of thought and my short-term memory disintegrates ("what was I just thinking about?") as I approach sleep) and associating those sleep signals with pleasant memories or a rewarding sleep experience are a big part of sleeping well for me.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:10 PM on February 24, 2012


I love it when I wake up in the middle of the night for a couple hours. It's dark and quiet and peaceful and I either get online or listen to podcasts.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:50 PM on February 25, 2012


« Older "The legislative goal of HB1160 is to codify in Vi...  |  "So I'm literally walking arou... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments