First sleep, second sleep

"Last night" by Konstantin Kalynovych

"Last night" by Konstantin Kalynovych

Around my house the first question we usually ask each other in the morning  is "how did you sleep?" Sure, it's partly just politeness but it's also an indicator of how much we love us some sleep around here. I'm a big believer in the restorative power of a good night's rest.

So it was with a bit of panic that I've noticed that my sleep patterns have slowly morphed into a broken pattern where I'm restless/awake in the middle of the night ("slowly morphed" might just be the best euphemism for aging ever, haha). I became especially aware of this when I got a Fitbit for Christmas last year and was astounded to see how often I awakened or was restless in the night. I thought I was getting a good eight or so hours but the Fitbit on my wrist that was tracking my movements said differently:

sleep pattern.jpeg

186 minutes restless. Yay, me!

Mostly I just wake up for a bit in the middle of the night. Sometimes I get up and go downstairs and read a while, sometimes I sit in bed and think crazy-tinged thoughts, fretting about things that seem absolutely ridiculous in the light of morning.  In particularly Inception-like meta moments, sometimes I'm awake worrying that I'm awake.

A month or two ago I was watching a historical Revolutionary War drama and the characters talked about "first sleep" and "second sleep." This sounded exactly like me! Intrigued, I looked it up.

It turns out that first sleep/second sleep was a thing for centuries: people would go to first sleep a couple of hours after dusk, wake up for an hour or two, and then return to second sleep until morning (often with a quick nap in the afternoon, too).  Historian Roger Ekirch found over 500 references to segmented sleep, dating back to Homer's Odyssey all the way up to the 19th century. It seems to have disappeared in the 1920s. This was, of course, probably related to the fact that in a pre-electricity world there were so many hours of darkness and the body only needed so much sleep. 

A psychology study in the early 1990s  had participants in absolute darkness for 14 hours a night. By the fourth week, the participants' sleep had slowly morphed into a distinct, segmented sleep pattern, sleeping for four hours, waking for an hour or two, and sleeping for four more. 

Fascinating! It made me wonder if I should just stop fighting my mid-night wakings and just embrace them as what my body wants me to do. Or at least stop fretting about them. did you sleep? Do you get enough, too little, too much? Have you noticed a tendency toward fragmented sleep?

The big sleep

If you have a teenager you know that there are about 39,847 things easier than waking one up in the morning. Sleep is something they can do very, very well. And they need it.

Often academic pressures and busy, brim-full lives mean that sometimes teens & college students are tempted to steal from their sleeping hours to squeeze in studying time for tests and assignments the next day. That decision might actually be counterproductive: A recent study reveals that the sleep/study trade-off might not be as helpful as we think.

Researchers studied high schoolers longitudinally during their four years of high school and found that, especially for those in the later two years of high school, sessions of extra, burn-the-midnight-oil studying were actually associated with worse academic performance the next day. They found that no matter how much time the student typically studies (or the amount of sleep she usually gets), if she sacrifices sleep to study more than usual she will be more likely to struggle on a test or in understanding concepts the following day*. In other words, consistency is key and don't throw bedtime out the window.

Turns out that those vital sleep routines are not just for toddlers after all! A teenage version might not be a bad idea, especially if it includes a consistent bed time and a distraction-free bedroom (meaning those pesky, message-chirpy phones would be better off elsewhere over night).

*Now, mind you, I haven't personally researched this but I would venture to say that if the student hasn't done any studying but sleeps a lot, that's probably not the key to academic success either.

via  zulily

via zulily