Although sleeping is one of the most important factors for our health, people rarely think much about it. Sleeping rejuvenates the body and mind and is vital if you want to have your system work properly. However, many people are unable to fall asleep due to insomnia or other sleeping disorders which have become pretty common nowadays. However, waking up in the middle of the night doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re suffering from insomnia – in fact, scientists say that it may be possible that this we inherited this habit from our ancestors.
Segmented sleep – it’s more normal than you think
Robert Ekirch, an English scientist, says that waking up in the middle of the night is normal and we actually inherited it from our ancestors. In the past, people woke up in the middle of the night to do some chores, pray or meditate. Ekirch found references to “first and second sleep” in literature from the Industrial Revolution, which is a proof that waking up in the middle of the night doesn’t automatically indicate insomnia.
Between the first and second sleep, people used to pray, meditate or do their household chores as they found this time of the night very relaxing. The reason why they felt relaxed is because the brain produces prolactin (a relaxing hormone) during this part of the night.
Ekirch says that sleeping disorders actually stem from the body’s preference for this so-called segmented sleep. The historical sleeping patterns may be the reason for insomnia and other sleeping disorders which are common nowadays.
Psychologist Greg Jacobs agrees with this view, and adds that the idea of sleeping in one block can be damaging due to the body’s preference to segmented sleep. Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist from Oxford also agrees. “When people tell me they wake up in the middle of the night and panic about it, I tell them it’s a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern. However, most doctors don’t realize this and prescribe them sleeping pills which can have negative consequences on our health. Sadly, there are few sleep centers which study sleep properly,” he says.
Our natural biorhythm is controlled by light and darkness, and before the light bulb was invented, people scheduled their day around the rising and setting of the sun – they rose when the sun rose, and went to bed when it went down. This, not insomnia, may be the main reason why you wake up during the night.