Many nights I wake up around 3 a.m. Then I lie awake for an hour or three, while random thoughts flit and bump around my brain like moths. I think about blog posts to write, recipes to try, my to-do list, ideas for that novel that I keep telling myself I might one day tackle. Usually, I do get back to sleep, but the broken nights are becoming very frustrating.
A while ago, I learned about “segmented sleep.” I’ve written about this before, but this seemed like a good time to revisit the concept. Before there was artificial lighting, apparently, it was normal for the night’s sleep to be broken into two periods: “first sleep” and “second sleep.” According to this editorial by A. Roger Ekirch, people actually made use of this midnight wakefulness:
Others remained in bed to pray or make love. This time after the first sleep was praised as uniquely suited for sexual intimacy; rested couples have “more enjoyment” and “do it better,” as one 16th-century French doctor wrote. Often, people might simply have lain in bed ruminating on the meaning of a fresh dream, thereby permitting the conscious mind a window onto the human psyche that remains shuttered for those in the modern day too quick to awake and arise.
I like to think of this time as a dim period of half-consciousness, when the subconscious can percolate ideas. That sounds nicer than insomnia. I should try not to get upset or frustrated by my insomnia — or my segmented sleep, as I should call it — but rather look upon it as a chance for some meditative time, when I can just be rather than doing.
I only wish I could get up and do some quiet yoga or write in my journal during that time, but I don’t want to disturb my husband. He gets distressed enough by my lack of sleep anyway. Still, just lying there in bed can be so boring.
I have heard people say that they would do away with sleep if they could, that it’s a waste of a good 8 hours every day. But even if we did come up with a pill or technology that enabled us to forgo sleep, I don’t think I would do it. I love sleep, whether I get a lot or a little. I relish that descent into oblivion every night, when my brain is forced to take a time-out and make up dreams for me, rather than buzzing on about what I have or have not done
- Dreams Deferred (New York Times)
- A Brief History of Sleep (Experience Life)
- Snorting a Brain Chemical Could Do Away With Sleep (Wired)