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The Big Sleep Debate

My mother has recently been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia and, needless to say, this is causing me concern and I’m losing sleep as a result. I’ve tried to get a good eight hours before I have to get up and start work by 9.00 – fortunately I work from home as a writer/digital typist for the real estate industry so I don’t HAVE to be up before 8.30, but even if I go to bed at midnight and read or listen to dreamy classical music on the radio for half an hour, I still find myself tossing and turning well before the end of my eight hour sleep!

Unfortunately, the more I worry about getting back to sleep if I wake during the night, the less able I am to go back to sleep.  It’s a vicious circle but millions of people around the world suffer the same torment.  However, I’ve recently read an article which details some sleep research carried out back in the 1990s whereby it was discovered that there may be a solution to the problem.

A psychiatrist conducted an experiment where he took a group of people and arranged for them to be in a dark area for 14 hours a day for a month.  He found that although it took a while for the people to adjust to the situation, by the fourth week these human guinea pigs had settled into a regular sleep pattern.  They slept for around four hours, were awake for one or two hours and then went back to sleep for four hours, i.e. a total of eight hours sleep a night.

This all sounds very plausible and, in an ideal world, it may be a solution but old habits are hard to break and embarking on a new sleeping pattern may cause sleepless nights in itself and, on top of that, not many working people can follow that regime so for those who are able to follow it, then give a try but I can’t see it catching on in the “real world”.

Following on from reading that article, I’ve discovered a few historical facts relating to what, in this modern world, seem like very strange ways to live one’s life.

It appears that humans used to sleep in three distinct cycles, much as the more recent research shows.  From looking on various websites I’ve discovered that for centuries humans went to bed about two hours after dusk, slept for around two hours, woke up for a period of around a further two hours and then went back to sleep.  During the period when they were awake these people became quite active - they’d maybe go to the loo, read, write or pray.  With regard to the latter, there’s documentary evidence going back to the 15th century that shows special prayers were taking place during the two sleeping sectors, and of course, if you weren’t living in a monastery or an abbey, more obvious activity took place during these waking hours - namely talking and having sex!

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