474: Sleep Through The Night

A Thousand Things to Talk About
474: Sleep Through The Night

Do you sleep through the night?

Full episode script

In 2006, the book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past was published, based on an extensive paper also by Roger Ekirch. The paper and subsequent book argued something that, at the time, was fairly revolutionary. The idea that our ancestors didn’t sleep through the night. Quoting from the BBC news article about this subject:

In diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

[…]these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

This so-called segmented sleep was so much the norm that it wasn’t even seen as particularly odd or different. It was even suggested that the best time to conceive a child was in the time between the first and second sleep, when both parents were better rested.

Now, a single sleep at night is considered “more normal” as much as “normal” is for varying sleep patterns. There are some that think returning to this separated sleep that gives a couple of hours specifically dedicated to quiet night time activities. That, however, takes a big shift in how we train ourselves to sleep, and the time we dedicate to it.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.