History and science bring down the myth of eight hours of sleep

Do you know how many hours you should sleep each night? Usually the recommendation is eight hours, preferably uninterrupted, right? But did you know it wasn't always like this?

American historian Roger Ekrich, after 16 years of researching documents and historical references dating back to ancient times, presented a paper in which he said people used to divide their nights of sleep into two four-hour periods.

According to the documents Ekrich found - over 500 - he found that it was normal for people to lie down two hours after sunset. After four hours, they would wake up, go for a walk, or do any activity for an hour or two, then go back to sleep for another four hours, in a two-shift sleep pattern.

What most surprised the historian was not the sheer number of references to this sleep pattern, but the fact that it was mentioned as something absolutely normal, as if that were the way everyone slept.

Rest between the sleeps

During the interval between sleep shifts, people used to be very active: during this time they would get up to go to the bathroom, smoke and even visit neighbors; many stayed in their beds reading, talking, or doing... more interesting things with their partners.

Sex during this interval, even, was a medical recommendation. A 16th-century handbook advised couples to have sex during this time, as they would be more rested from everyday activities and still have time to rest after the act.

End of range

Have you noticed that many of us have sleep problems, waking up several times at night? Scientists suggest that this could be related to the new imposed uninterrupted eight-hour sleep pattern that would be unnatural. What's more, they also suggest that this pattern that has been forced upon us may even be interfering with humans' natural ability to regulate stress.

In the past, people used the sleep gap to meditate and relax, and according to experts, it's no surprise that levels of stress, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse have risen so much in modern life.

So if you are one of those who wake up in the middle of the night, don't despair. Try to view sleep as our ancestors, relaxing or meditating a little. Maybe this is not even the best way to rest.