No wonder I can’t (stay a)sleep!


Ever since my recent post Why Can’t I Sleep?, I’ve been conducting sleep experiments on the furniture around the house.  Yes  – on the furniture.  You see – some of the reviews of the SleepCycle iPhone App claimed that its graphs are fake – that even tables have sleep cycles, according to their own experiments with this software.  So I tried it on a few surfaces around the house and, other than some explainable wiggles attributable to human interference, all of my infrastructure seems to be sleeping soundly, unlike me…

Based on these results, I’d say the SleepCycle iPhone App is definitely ‘for real’.  In fact, it even complained about the bathroom counter –  it told me that there was insufficient movement detected to adequately assess the quality of the bathroom counter’s sleep.  So – that’s the good news.

The bad news is in my sleep graph – as you can see, I am still suffering from insomnia. Or am I?   This morning, on the CBC show, Sunday Edition Michael Enright interviewed a historian – I think it was Roger Ekirch – who said that, up until a few hundred years ago, people typically had a bimodal sleep pattern with two 4-hour sleeps per night and a 1 to 2-hour waking period in between.  I was astounded – this is exactly what happens to me every night (as you can see in my sleep graph above)! I always wake up after about 4 hours of sleep and it always takes me a couple of hours to get back to sleep.  According to Dr. Ekirch, that’s completely normal!  At least it was normal for humans for hundreds of thousand of years. Then for some reason – people decided that they should sleep right through the night. Ekirch suggests it’s related to the advent of city lighting at night which started in the late 1600s. I think an additional factor might be our increasingly busy lives and the prevalence of the ‘8 to 5’ work pattern – it’s hard to fit a bimodal sleep cycle into the intervening period.    Apparently a medical journal in 1829 even urged parents to break their children of this bimodal sleeping pattern and, by the 1920s, nobody even remembered that it was the normal way to sleep.

So, all this time, I’ve just been doing what’s normal.  What terrific news!  Now – instead of stressing over the fact that I’m awake for two hours a night – I am going to embrace my completely normal bimodal sleep pattern.  Think of all the work I can get done in those two hours a night – dusting, marking… writing!    Hmm,  maybe I should test Mr. Hicks to see if he has a bimodal sleep pattern, too!  😉

About Faye Hicks

I am a professor emeritus, civil engineer, animal lover and writer.
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10 Responses to No wonder I can’t (stay a)sleep!

  1. Sharon Hicks says:

    OMG – that latest finding is VERY revealing !!! I too have always had a hard time staying awake all night … and like you, I find that I’ll often wake up after sleeping soundly for about 4 hrs, then I’m ‘wide awake’ for an hour or two, then go back to sleep easily after that … I’ve learned over the past few years to take advantage of that time, to work on a pencil painting in progress, or write notes on some subject I’ve been ruminating over, or other such things.
    I’ve also learned not to turn on any bright lights during that productive period in the middle of the night … just a lamp is what I use …

    And now you tell me that it’s completely normal for our species to sleep like that !!! AWESOME!!!! And to think, all these years I just figured there was something wrong with me, that I had a screwed-up sleep cycle !!!

    I think in many ways we’d be far better off to return to habits which are more ‘normal’ for our very ancient body systems … of course, retirement makes it far easier to follow my body’s natural rhythm than when I had to be at work at a specific time every morning … those days were tough …

    Now I’m going to REALLY enjoy those little middle-of-the-night work sessions!! thanks for sharing that info!

    • Faye Hicks says:

      Yes – isn’t it great news? We definitely should be working with these natural rhythms – not fighting them. I wonder how many other people out there are experiencing the same thing… AND have been stressing over it.

  2. Sharon Hicks says:

    oops – just realized I had said I had trouble ‘staying awake all night’ … what I meant was ‘trouble staying ASLEEP all night’ !! yikes – age strikes again LOL

  3. I have a octuplemodal sleep pattern. lol

  4. I like your review.

    Check another sleep cycle alarm clock, EasyWakeup. It’s more reliable, even more than built-in alarm, wakes you up even if forget to go back to the app after checking messages, has a countdown mode, random music from iPod library list.
    Let me know if you want I can send you a promo code.

  5. I’m not so sure about that bimodal sleep pattern. For quite a few years, I fell asleep to Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit on a tape player. I never recall having to run it a second time, later. I usually sleep through, unless awakened by hydraulic impetus. I use a CPAP machine most nights, which helps a lot of people who are awakened by momentarily not getting enough air. In my case, these incidents are accompanied by dreams of being in a confined space, but some people just find they’re waking up several times every night and don’t know why.

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