Sleep is an important “activity” for most people, essential for rejuvenating the mind and revitalizing the body. But like most people, you’re probably not getting all the sleep you need, and over the years you may have incurred a sleep debt.

Many people find they wake during the night without warning, causing worry that they may be suffering from a sleep disorder or other health issues. The reality is, however, sleep may not be an all-night thing as we commonly see it in today’s society. In fact, historical records, centuries-old literature, and ancient references to sleep are all revealing a whole new way we should be looking at how we slumber.

Segmented Sleep: More Normal Than You Realize

It’s probably not a stretch to say you’ve woken up during sleep once or twice in your life time. Perhaps you find you’re waking up in the middle of the night every night, and maybe you’re wondering if you may be suffering from insomnia or maybe even sleep apnea. Most people naturally follow this line of thinking, and doctors are more than happy to prescribe a sleeping pill to these individuals. Known as “segmented sleep,” this seemingly irregular sleeping pattern may not be a disorder at all, but a natural biological response that we, in modern times, have forgotten.

An English scholar named Roger Ekirch has recently cemented the idea that our ancestors used to naturally “practice” segmented sleep, using their middle-of-the-night waking hours to pray, meditate, or finish chores around the home. [1] Roger Ekirch found references to “first sleep” and “second sleep” in literature, legal documents, and even letters dating before the Industrial period. The inbetween hour or hours were usually spent in prayer, and many find it to be one of the most relaxing periods. This may be because this middle period between first sleep and second sleep is around midnight where the brain produces prolactin, a hormone that supports a feeling of relaxation.

Before Reaching for That Sleeping Pill, Consider This

Our natural biorhythms are governed by our exposure to light and darkness. Before the introduction of the lightbulb, almost everyone scheduled their day around the rising and setting of the sun. When the sun rose in the morning, so did humans, and when the sun hit the horizon in the evening, we more than likely went to sleep around the same time. Our brain produces serotonin in response to sunlight, and this neurotransmitter provides an energetic, wakeful feeling. [2] In contrast, when we’re exposed to darkness–meaning no artificial light whatsoever–our brain produces sleep-regulating melatonin. Computers, television screens, smartphones, tablets, and every other source of light in the evening hours is artificially extending our waking hours and interfering with our neurochemistry.

Because of this, it is possible that the practice of segmented sleep naturally fell away from public knowledge as time went by. We stay up longer, produce serotonin when we’re not supposed to, and also consume a less-than-ideal diet. All of these factors could be the reason why we usually sleep throughout the night without waking and view this as normal. Still, there are some people who find that they wake up in the middle of the night consistently, without a clue as to why it keeps happening. The public, including medical professionals and sleep specialists, have never heard of segmented sleep and aren’t trained to handle this natural occurrence. So if this is happening to you, read more about segmented sleep and its possible benefits before you reach for a sleeping pill. It may be that you’re more in tune with your ancestral rhythms than most people.

This article originally appeared at Global Healing Center.

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