Segmented sleep, also known as divided sleep, bimodal sleep pattern, bifurcated sleep, or interrupted sleep, is a polyphasic or biphasic sleep pattern where two or more periods of sleep are punctuated by periods of wakefulness. Along with a nap (siesta) in the day, it has been argued that this is the natural pattern of human sleep. A case has been made that maintaining such a sleep pattern may be important in regulating stress.
Historian A. Roger Ekirch (2001, 2005) has argued that before the Industrial Revolution, segmented sleep was the dominant form of human slumber in Western civilization. He draws evidence from documents from the ancient, medieval, and modern world. Other historians, such as Craig Koslofsky, have endorsed Ekirch's analysis.
Segmented sleep as a historical norm
According to Ekirch's argument, typically individuals slept in two distinct phases, bridged by an intervening period of wakefulness of approximately one hour. People also used this time to pray and reflect, and to interpret dreams, which were more vivid at that hour than upon waking in the morning. This was also a favorite time for scholars and poets to write uninterrupted, whereas still others visited neighbors, had sex, or engaged in petty crime.
The human circadian rhythm regulates the human sleep-wake cycle of wakefulness during the day and sleep at night. Ekirch suggests that it is due to the modern use of electric lighting that most modern humans do not practice segmented sleep, which is a concern for some scientists. Superimposed on this basic rhythm is a secondary one of light sleep in the early afternoon and quiet wakefulness in the early morning.
The brain exhibits high levels of the pituitary hormone prolactin during the period of nighttime wakefulness, which may contribute to the feeling of peace that many people associate with it. It is in many ways similar to the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states which occur just before falling asleep and upon waking, respectively.
The modern popular assumption, that consolidated sleep with no awakenings is the normal and correct way for human adults to sleep, may lead people to consult their doctors fearing they have maintenance insomnia or other sleep disorders. If Ekirch's hypothesis is correct, their concerns might best be addressed by reassurance that their sleep conforms to historically natural sleep patterns.
The two periods of night sleep in Ekirch's theory were called "first sleep" (occasionally "dead sleep") and "second sleep" (or "morning sleep") in medieval England. Ekirch finds that first and second sleep were also the terms in the Romance languages, as well as the Tiv of Nigeria: In French, the common term was premier sommeil or premier somme; in Italian, primo sonno; in Latin, primo somno or comcubia nocte. He found no common word in English for the period of wakefulness between, apart from paraphrases such as first waking or when one wakes from his first sleep and the generic watch (in its old meaning of being awake). In French an equivalent generic term is dorveille (a portmanteau of the French words dormir (“to sleep”) and veiller (“to be awake; to be alert”)).
Ekirch suggests that, because members of modern industrialised societies, with late hours facilitated by electric lighting, mostly do not practice segmented sleep, they may misinterpret and mistranslate references to it in literature: common interpretations of the term "first sleep" are "beauty sleep" and "early slumber". A reference to first sleep in the Odyssey was translated as such in the seventeenth century, but, if Ekirch's hypothesis is correct, was universally mistranslated in the twentieth.
- Why We Nap: Evolution, Chronobiology, and Functions of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep (book)
- Thomas Wehr
- Wehr, T. A. (1992). "In short photoperiods, human sleep is biphasic". Journal of sleep research 1 (2): 103–107. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.1992.tb00019.x. PMID 10607034.
- Russell Foster, in Hegarty, Stephanie (22 February 2012). "The myth of the eight-hour sleep". BBC News.
- Gregg Jacobs, in Hegarty, Stephanie (22 February 2012). "The myth of the eight-hour sleep". BBC News.
- Hegarty, Stephanie (22 February 2012). "The myth of the eight-hour sleep". BBC News.
- Koslofsky, Craig (2011). Evenings' empire: A history of the night in early modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-521-89643-6.
- A. Roger Ekirch (2006), At Day's Close: Night In Times Past, New York: Norton, pp. 308–310 ISBN 0-393-05089-0
- Frances Quarles (London 1644), Enchirdion ch. 54
- A. Roger Ekirch (2005), At Day's Close: Night In Times Past, pp. 311–323 ISBN 0-393-05089-0
- "Jessa Gamble: Our natural sleep cycle | Video on". Ted.com. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
- Brown, Walter A., MD (2006-05-26). "Acknowledging Preindustrial Patterns of Sleep May Revolutionize Approach to Sleep Dysfunction". Applied Neurology (CMPMedica). Retrieved 2008-02-03. "The discoveries of Ekirch and Wehr raise the possibility that segmented sleep is "normal" and, as such, these revelations hold significant implications for both understanding sleep and the treatment of insomnia."
- A. Roger Ekirch (2005), At Day's Close: Night In Times Past, pp. 301–302 ISBN 0-393-05089-0
- A. Roger Ekirch (2005), At Day's Close: Night In Times Past, p. 303 ISBN 0-393-05089-0
- Everett, Daniel L. (2008) Don't Sleep, there are Snakes, Pantheon Books ISBN 978-0-375-42502-8
- Koslofsky, Craig (2011) Evening's Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe.
- Verdon, Jean, Night in the Middle Ages, trans. George Holoch (2002). ISBN 0-268-03656-X.
- Warren, Jeff (2007). "The Watch". The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness. Toronto: Random House Canada. ISBN 978-0-679-31408-0.
- Library of Congress Webcast - At Day's Close: Night In Times Past
- Slumber's Unexplored Landscape: People in traditional societies sleep in eye-opening ways
- New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, M.D., March 14, 2006, Wake Up and Smell the Savanna
- Coturnix, ScienceBlogs Includes image of original data, Wehr's experiment
- The science of sleep: Jessa Gamble on TED.com
- Decoding the Science of Sleep