'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Thursday, 13 August 2015

On Sleeping


It is a truth fairly recently discovered that as we began to light our streets and homes, our sleeping patterns changed.
In the old days, we would head to bed about 2 hours after sunset, and began our day around 11 - 12 hours later, having had a period of an hour or three of wakefulness in the middle.
After about four hours sleep, we would tend to wake for a while.

This bimodal pattern was so common that researchers have had trouble finding information about it, because, well, who bothers to write about something that is so universal?
So, what did people do in this time? Apparently people would do things like; get up and go to the toilet, lie in bed and chat to the bedmate, make love, or get up and read a little, maybe make a drink, stoke the fire, or just lie there, thinking about things. Some people went next door and visited the neighbours.
It has been proposed that this waking time gave people a chance to mentally or verbally sort through daytime stresses and concerns, and to develop strategies for dealing with stress, and solve problems.

This is a period of time that began to shrink and now that people tend to stay up or go out later at night, it has almost entirely disappeared, as people expect to be in bed for only about eight or nine hours at the most, and sleep in one stretch.

It has also been suggested that many common stress symptoms exhibited by people today might not exist if we still were 'abed' for the amount of time that is 'normal'.

 When I read this I thought I would try going to bed earlier, and it worked for a while.  I even lit candles when I got up at night, to reproduce the orangy-er colour of light (fire in some form) after sunset, that is supposed to stop you waking up too much.

However culturally our lives have changed.  I sometimes get phone calls at 10pm … I get invited to movies that begin at 8pm, and people have expressed concern that I have 'insomnia' when I told them I get up and read for a couple of hours every night. Like experiments in polyphasic sleep, that my son tried, you don't really fit in.

But I have found that there is a free Mac application that helps a bit. After sunset it changes the colour of your screen, gently 'warming it' to go a small way towards emulating the 'normal' light spectrum you are more likely to have entering your eye after dark.  You could say it's only a little thing, but it's great, and the interesting thing is, it feels quite natural.

Here it is.  Just get F.lux.

More info: BBC article

10 comments:

  1. I now know why I wake at about 1pm in the morning and head off to the refrigerator. Obviously I am completely normal (NO need to comment).
    I quite like the idea of bimodal sleeping. I don't think I would cope with polyphasic sleep although as I get older I find myself sometimes napping during the day if I'm not doing anything else.

    One question. If you install F.lux, is it easy to get rid of it if you don't like it, or you just want to return to the status quo ? I have had some nightmares with apps and other thingies over the years.

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    1. Yes Alden, it's reassuring, we're normal, isn't it?
      F.lux can certainly be disabled permanently,or temporarily with a timer if required. And also disabled, and colour customised. You need to plug in your location and it automatically determines sunset, dawn etc. It's VERY easy to use. Because if I can, etc.
      However I must say haven't tried tried removing the programme altogether. Because I still want it.

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  2. This post was soooo interesting Kate. I didn't know any of that about sleep patterns and waking up in the middle of the night.
    I find temperature is the thing that most affects my sleep. I always go to bed late ( midnight ) and in Winter on these cold nights when I leave my window wide open to let in the lovely cold air I snuggle down all warm and cosy and sleep soundly till 7:30 or even 8:00 but Summer is quite another story unless we leave the aircon on all night and my night's sleep is much more fitful. Then you face the day ahead with much less enthusiasm, I find.

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    1. Temperature affects my sleep too - easier to sleep well in winter than in the heat of summer, except just now it has been rather cold here again, and the LAST thing I would do is keep my window open as my nose might freeze off! And I'm sure it's been warmer in the fridge than in the kitchen some mornings!
      Shh, don't tell my kids (they prioritise fashion over comfort) but as I don't have a nightcap as in the picture, I've recently been wearing my wooly hat to bed too!

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  3. My sleep pattern is a total mess. I sleep for about 3 or 4 hours, then listen to the radio all night until 5.30am, when I get up.

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    1. Well, apart from the bit when you don't get back to sleep, Cro, your sleep pattern is possibly more 'normal' than most people!

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  4. I found this fascinating Kate and must confess that I was unaware that there used to be nightly gaps in people's sleeping patterns. When I lived on the island of Rotuma, north of Fiji, I noticed that people stayed up much later when there was a full moon - socialising, completing daytime tasks in the bright white light. There was no electricity there.

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    1. Kate1.9.15
      That was interesting about Rotuma YP. I sleep less when the moon is bright too. It makes sense to use the light.

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  5. I'd read about this last year while researching another early pattern of behavior. I think the modern industrial society s have obliterated it. Older groups, even communal societies in the jungles, keep to this cycle.
    Great article.
    On another topic, did you find the pants pattern offered from a pattern company? Happy sewing!

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    1. Hi Zippi. Thanks for your input.
      I copied a pair of Punjabi trousers I had already purchased. Made a newspaper pattern of each of the parts. I should have made the top bit from the same fabric. Being heavier stretch satin, it puffed out a little more than the very light drapey legs. But it is still wearable!

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