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Is the eight hours of sleep a modern myth?

Every few months, a new study emerges stressing the importance of getting eight hours of sleep, but could the real problem be that spending eight hours straight in bed is simply unnatural for the human body?

Science and historians have been rediscovering the idea that sleeping in two chunks of four hours a piece appears to be the norm when humans are left to their own devices and was considered quite natural before the seventeenth century when our nights began to shine with artificial lighting.

Historian Roger Ekirch has found over 500 references to a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night dating back as far as Homer’s Odyssey and as wide as modern tribes in Nigeria, and he notes that it appeared to be considered the norm rather than the affliction we would see it as today.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps…

…A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”.

As nighttime activities became more acceptable when European cities began providing street lights, concentrated sleep also became the norm, but some scientists are beginning to wonder if the anxiety we attach to periods of wakefulness at night could be to blame for the many ills affecting our society, from depression to drug addiction.

Perhaps tonight, you can put those hours to better use and not feel bad about it in the morning.

Full story at BBC.

Unraveling sleep disorders.

Photo credit: Fotolia

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