Proof that waking up in the middle of the night is normal, sleeping 8 hours is not


In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

A woman tending to her husband in the middle of the night by Jan Saenredam, 1595Image copyrightBBC

Ekirch says this 1595 engraving by Jan Saenredam is evidence of activity at night

His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern - in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

“It’s not just the number of references - it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

Just thought I would share that so many threads “lows in the middle of the night” Well its OK to be up in the middle of the night ! Its normal.


Great article, especially the part about the night’s “First Sleep”. I read this several months ago after I’d decided to do something about my terrible sleep patterns (I was typically getting less than 5 hours of sleep each night).

Thanks once again to the miracles of technology (in this case the Apple watch with accelerometer and heart rate monitor), highly accurate sleep apps are available so you can monitor your personal sleep cycle(s).

I use the Pillow sleep app, available for free.

DISCLOSURE: I have no affiliation with the company who makes Pillow, and I’ve not received any compensation for mentioning them here

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I am 78 years old. We moved from active working lives to the farm 30+ years ago after my husband was incapacitated. In following the rhythm of his care, we naturally fell into earlier bedtimes and earlier rising in the morning. He recently had to be placed into a nursing home. So, alone now, I still follow the same schedule my body has fallen into. Yes, I go to bed about 2 hours after dusk. I wake up around midnight or 1am. I read for about an hour in bed then go back to sleep until about an hour before sunrise, which gives me under 7 hours of actual sleep and seems to be enough.

I have read about this split sleep pattern of humans and it appears to be correct, at least so far as my own sleep pattern is concerned.

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Mine, too, Willow. I am 79. I do find, though, that this way of sleeping has become more pronounced as I have aged.

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So… do you feel that this way of sleeping interferes with your life or the enjoyment of living? Frankly, I think I have been getting as much sleep as I need. I don’t think it would work for me were I still working at a regular job with set hours. The inability to stay asleep would cause great anxiety because of the need to wake up at a certain hour to be at work on time.

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One of my friends told me about this. I can’t remember what she said about the why, something to do with farms and light patterns maybe. People use to get up after the first sleep at 2 am, do stuff and then go back to sleep at dawn maybe.

I have slept that way for years, but as a child and teenager I fell alseep easily and slept through the night and felt very well rested. This pattern started after a terrible insomnia where I woke up every hour. I think it was the start of my thyroid issues.

D has totally messed up my sleep forever now. And dls which was always bad is horrific now.