I thought I was an insomniac. I was struck night after night with sudden wakefulness at 2am or 2:30am in the morning. I would fight it, I would try to go back to sleep, I’d drink tea. I would do all the things that everyone tells you to do for insomnia, but none of it really worked. Years later, I’ve learned to embrace my wakefulness instead of fighting it.
A couple of years ago I read an article that completely changed my perspective. Once, people woke up in the middle of the night regularly. “Nocturnal awakenings aren’t abnormal at all; they are the natural rhythm that your body gravitates toward. According to historians and psychiatrists alike, it is the compressed, continuous eight-hour sleep routine to which everyone aspires today that is unprecedented in human history.”
“The dominant pattern of sleep, arguably since time immemorial, was biphasic,” said Roger Ekirch, a sleep historian at Virginia Tech University and author of “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past” (Norton 2005). “Humans slept in two four-hour blocks, which were separated by a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night lasting an hour or more. During this time some might stay in bed, pray, think about their dreams, or talk with their spouses. Others might get up and do tasks or even visit neighbors before going back to sleep.”
Splitting the night into two portions was sometimes referred to and “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Think how freeing this is; instead of naps, people could be taking their second sleep. For me the impact was immediate.
Imagine the freedom that opened when I no longer had to fight my middle of the night awakenings. No more disturbances or efforts to get back to sleep. Instead I pick up where I left off before bed or start something new based on what I was dreaming just before. In fact, I’m writing this article at the perfect middle of the nighttime of 3am.
I want to spread this message because I believe that we create such rigid sleep expectations, that people are constantly worried about getting the right amount of sleep at the right time of the day. Why can’t people find a way to be happy with the right amount of sleep at the times that work for their body. Night owls, morning people, nap takers, and nocturnal awakeners are just following the lead of their body to get the sleep they need when their body needs it. Don’t be rigid; be you.
Originally published at medium.com