AlterNet’s Lynn Stuart Parramore said a BBC article published last year called “The Myth of the Eight-Hour Sleep” “has permanently altered the way I think about sleep,” and talks about the changes she’s made to her resting habits.

The standard eight hour sleep traces back to the industrial revolution and the invention of electricity. With the arrival of the light bulb, night was no longer a patch of unceasing darkness. The contemporary all-nighter, in the pursuit of any trade, was born, and proponents of work in general could cast sleep as an unnecessary and irresponsible waste of time.

Parramore describes how her attempts to honor what’s been uncovered in research into sleep and historical sleeping practices, described further below, have changed her life for the better:

I’m a writer and editor who works from home, without children, so I’ve had the luxury, for the last couple of weeks, of completely relinquishing myself to a new (or quite old) way of sleeping. I’ve been working at a cognitive shift — looking upon early evening sleepiness as a gift, and plopping into bed if I feel like it. I try to view the wakeful period, if it should come, as a magical, blessed time when my email box stops flooding and the screeching horns outside my New York window subside.

Instead of heading to bed with anxiety, I’ve tried to dive in like a voluptuary, pushing away my guilt about the list of things I could be doing and letting myself become beautifully suspended between worlds. I’ve started dimming the lights a couple of hours after dusk and looking at the nighttime not as a time to pursue endless work, but to daydream, drift, putter about, and enter an almost meditative state.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Lynn Stuart Parramore at AlterNet:

Turns out that psychiatrist Thomas Wehr ran an experiment back in the ‘90s in which people were thrust into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. When their sleep regulated, a strange pattern emerged. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before drifting off again into a second four-hour sleep.

Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech would not have been surprised by this pattern. In 2001, he published a groundbreaking paper based on 16 years of research, which revealed something quite amazing: humans did not evolve to sleep through the night in one solid chunk. Until very recently, they slept in two stages. Shazam.

… We have been told over and over that the eight-hour sleep is ideal. But in many cases, our bodies have been telling us something else. Since our collective memory has been erased, anxiety about nighttime wakefulness has kept us up even longer, and our eight-hour sleep mandate may have made us more prone to stress. The long period of relaxation we used to get after a hard day’s work may have been better for our peace of mind than all the yoga in Manhattan.

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