A long time ago, waking up in the middle of the night might have been a completely normal occurrence – as long as you fell back to sleep for a “second round” at some point.
Biphasic sleep is a sleep pattern in which people doze off at two different times over a 24-hour period. Some reports from earlier periods – many thanks to the research of historian Roger Ekirch – suggest that we may in fact be hard-wired for it. Stories of earlier humans falling asleep when it gets dark, only to wake up around midnight to cook, talk with your neighbor, do one or more chores, and then go back to sleep until morning offer glimmers of interest for those in the know. between us who have hard work. time to stay asleep all night.
“It wasn’t pathologized or weird, it was just what you did,” said Sara Mednick, a professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of The Power of the Downstate: Recharge Your Life Using Your Body’s Own Restorative Systems.
Most of us are used to a monophasic sleep pattern, or a period of sleep that lasts.
“This idea that we should be sleeping in a solid dose is a pretty new phenomenon,” Mednick said.
But the reasons for this may have less to do with how our brains are wired for sleep, and more to do with how we’ve evolved as a working culture and society.
Here’s what we know.
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What counts as biphasic sleep and why do people have it?
Biphasic sleep is two sleep segments in a single day. This could mean having six hours of continuous sleep at night, then a nap during the day. Or you can follow the more historical literature pattern of going to bed when it gets dark (around 8 or 9 p.m.), waking up in the middle of the night for an hour or two, then going back to sleep until morning, when the sun rises. But the sunlight-based approach can be challenging for most people following a more structured 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.
“I don’t know how many people could fit into that kind of schedule,” said Dr. Federico Cerrone, who specializes in respiratory health and sleep medicine at the Atlantic Health System. He said that although there is evidence that people once slept in at least two segments a day, the historical circumstances were very different. The houses were lit by candlelight, so people had no artificial light to keep them awake, and they worked different hours. This was before the Industrial Revolution in the United States, when the rhythms of our bodies became more tied to our work schedules.
Some people are still regular biphasic sleepers today, and it may be more common in some cultures.
“People have been napping for a long time,” Cerrone noted.
Although biphasic sleep is also segmented, it is different from polyphasic sleep, which comes in different forms that people might try for productivity. But it can drastically reduce the number of hours you sleep and be an “absolute disaster” for your health, according to CNET’s Mark Serrels.
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Who should try it?
According to Cerrone, there’s not much advantage to biphasic sleep over monophasic sleep — or vice versa — as long as you get the recommended amount of sleep, which is at least seven hours for most people.
“Let’s get just enough sleep,” Cerrone said. He added that despite historical evidence of people sleeping in at least two segments, “there is no evidence to say that this is a good schedule.”
But for people who often wake up in the middle of the night — and then struggle with it — adopting a biphasic sleep schedule could help them break free from a sleep deprivation loop. People often wake up at night and then get scared because they think they have insomnia, Mednick said. Maybe trying biphasic sleep safely could help them break this cycle.
“It all depends on how people feel once they try to be biphasic,” Mednick said. If dividing your sleep cycle into two segments helps, keep using it. (Perhaps you’ve tried the age-old method of going to bed early, then back to bed early in the morning.) If you don’t feel well or have symptoms of sleep deprivation, don’t keep trying to make it work.
And if you’re leaning into biphasic sleep, listen to your body’s natural signals telling you to rest. “Go to sleep as soon as you’re tired,” Mednick said. “Don’t try to continue.”
For tips on how to sleep better, see our article onor consider these .
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.