Description: I suspect you have, more than once had this experience. You wake up in the middle of the night, say around 3 AM, and cannot get back to sleep. You mind races, you worry about things that you really may not worry about much during the day, and you also worry that you are not getting the sleep you are going to need in order to manage your next day. Sound familiar? If not, well good for you, but what about the rest of us? In any introductory class focusing on research methods the notion that we should be cautious of any assumptions we may have about the phenomenon we are going to study as those assumptions might seriously limit the range of hypotheses we might consider when we set up our research. What does that have to do with sleep “disturbances”? Well, how about this. Some medieval author, in passing in their writing, mentioned first and second sleeps (think of the Hobbit notion of first and second breakfast). What there seem to have been referring to is a habit of going to sleep when it got dark out then waking up in the middle of the night, getting up and doing a few things and then going back to bed and sleeping until morning. Why? Who knows BUT what if THAT is how were all used to sleep and this current practice of aiming to sleep through the night and freaking out when we cannot do that is essentially not how we have been built or shaped evolutionarily? So, if believing it is right and natural to sleep through the night and that not doing so is odd and problematic is a sort of sleep bias what might we do, in the way of research to investigate this? Once you have your research plan in mind have a read through the linked article that discusses both historical and current research into this question.
Source: Can Medieval Sleeping Habits Fix America’s Insomnia? Derek Thompson, The Atlantic.
Date: January 27, 2022
Isn’t it fun when research does NOT lead us to clear definite conclusions? It suggests that, as in many things, we are habitually adaptive and can do things like out night’s sleep in a number of ways. It is certainly true that the advent of artificial light changed a number of sleep related things and potentially limited or reduced sleep but then, looking farther back, the advent of controlled fire (that we could light and put out as needed) made sustained sleep possible by keeping us warm and keeping predators at bay. SO, we are adaptable and perhaps knowing that we are adaptable might make it easier for us to not get too wrapped up in anxiety on those nights where we wake at 3 AM and have trouble getting back to sleep.
Questions for Discussion:
- Does waking up in the middle of the night and worrying about things mean that you are not coping well?
- What are some things you could do if you find yourself waking up at 3 or 4 AM and worrying?
- What sorts of a theory of sleep could we come up with that would be able to include the differences in sleep patterns discussed in the linked article?
References (Read Further):
Yetish, G., Kaplan, H., Gurven, M., Wood, B., Pontzer, H., Manger, P. R., … & Siegel, J. M. (2015). Natural sleep and its seasonal variations in three pre-industrial societies. Current Biology, 25(21), 2862-2868. Link
Samson, D. R., Manus, M. B., Krystal, A. D., Fakir, E., Yu, J. J., & Nunn, C. L. (2017). Segmented sleep in a nonelectric, small‐scale agricultural society in Madagascar. American Journal of Human Biology, 29(4), e22979. Link
Smit, A. N., Broesch, T., Siegel, J. M., & Mistlberger, R. E. (2019). Sleep timing and duration in indigenous villages with and without electric lighting on Tanna Island, Vanuatu. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1-16. Link
Ekirch, A. R. (2016). Segmented sleep in preindustrial societies. Sleep, 39(3), 715-716. Link
Hegarty, S. (2012). The myth of the eight-hour sleep. BBC News Magazine, 22. Link
Ekirch, A. R. (2001). Sleep we have lost: pre-industrial slumber in the British Isles. The American Historical Review, 106(2), 343-386. Link