Nowadays, insomnia and sleep problems are running rampant through societies all across the world. No matter how much we avoid technology at night, no matter how relaxed we think we are, and no matter what we do to try to ease into sleep at a reasonable hour, sleep problems still occur far more often than we desire. Nearly 70% of adults have reported some type of sleep problem (whether diagnosed or not), and 69% of children experience sleep problems at least a few nights a week.
Recent studies have shown that maybe there are more factors contributing to the insomnia epidemic than we realize. Anthropologists have discovered that many centuries ago, nighttime sleep patterns were different than they are now, and they actually line up more with the sleep pattern of an insomniac!
Artifacts, including diaries, medical books, and other literature, tell us that humans used to sleep in two phases each night. They would sleep for 3-4 hours, wake up for 3 or so hours, and then go back to sleep and wake up with the sun. The reasons behind these sleep patterns are multifaceted, as they may have a variety of contributing factors. The desire not to stay up late, due to crime and lack of light, is one main reason why people went to bed with the sun. However, they would have been unable to sleep for the entire time that the sun was down, so their bodies fell into this bi-modal sleep pattern. Another reason is that child rearing interrupts sleep, and families used to sleep in groups rather than in separate rooms like we do today.
Regardless of why our ancestors used to sleep in bi-phasic patterns, we can rest assured that our middle of the night wake ups don’t have to mean extreme stress and anxiety about the sleep deprivation that we will experience the next day. If anything, maybe we need to rethink our own sleep patterns and embrace our normal human physiology that wakes us up in the middle of the night.
- “Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You – Are We Doing It Wrong?” (Collective Evolution)
- “Can’t Sleep? Maybe Thinking About Evolution Will Help” (NPR)