The myth of the eight-hour sleep

This is fascinating. The article says that ancient humans did not sleep in one block, but had two different blocks of sleep in the night, with a wakeful period in between.

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, 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.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

I’ve read about this. Fascinating!

Wish they could explain a teenage boy sleeping for 20 hours each day…
Inquiring minds want to know!

Truly interesting article! I’m going to give it to my patients when I do sleep hygiene classes… until I get caught by my supervising Physician! Lol

I wonder if the Lauds prayers were originally in between the two sleeps? Or perhaps the Matins.

Could it be an escape from reality…not wanting to face certain issues? I say this as I remember the sleeping habits of my teen-aged sons who are now men in their forties and fifties.,

Great link, thanks.

It is interesting. There are many cultures that stay up late, sleep for a shorter period, get up and work, then break for a couple hours, then back to work or other activity…the siesta as it’s sometimes called. This article points to the origin of the siesta as being a normal pattern in the past. Certainly all parents know that babies go through waking and sleeping during the night.


There are people who do this today and it’s called medial insomnia: that is, getting up in the middle of the night for an hour or two, then going back to sleep and waking up refreshed. This kind of insomnia is not thought to be a problem as are initial insomnia (not sleeping at all) and terminal insomnia or early morning awakening, getting up too early and being tired but not being able to get back to sleep.

However, how long did people in those days live?!

The two-block sleep isn’t even as ancient as one may believe. Even into the Middle Ages, sleep took place from sundown until approximately midnight, and would resume again from 1-2:00ish until sunrise. The term ‘Midnight’ was even brought about because it was the middle of the sleep period, or the awake period. This is part of the reason why “teaching” a child to sleep for an 8 hour stretch takes a lot of time and training–it is in many ways unnatural. It’s conditioned. …And I LOVE it. I would love to get an 8 hour stretch someday again. :slight_smile:

Great. Cool. I could do with two eight hour blocks every 24 hours

This is old news if you’ve ever nursed a baby.

I sometimes sleep in two 3-4 hour sessions, with about a 3-hour period of quiet activity between. (That’s why I often post here in the wee hours.) This sleep schedule seems to work for me.

Deleted post. Sorry.

Right now, if a person went to bed at sunset and got up at sunrise, he would sleep about 11 hours. In Western Europe, which is a good deal farther north than here, it would be even more.

It’s no wonder people got up in the middle of night for awhile in the winter. In the summer, it would be different, and maybe they didn’t do it then.:shrug:

Is it true that Spain still has the siesta even today? And in some parts of Mexico also?

I dont know about anyone else, but for me, usually I go to bed around 11:30pm and wake up around 7:30am, but I feel AWFUL, every single morning, no matter how much sleep Ive had, its like Im hung over or something, but I dont drink, usually wake up with a mild headache, body aches, but goes away quickly once I get going, get a shower.

Its not my bed, as I spent a nice chunk of change on a very good bed, but Ive noticed I feel the same no matter what kind of bed I sleep on…very strange?

I also usually wake up to go #1 around 6-6:30am, this really bugs me and I often wonder how this is even possible, since I have not had anything to drink since before 9pm the previous night…where would the liquid be coming from? lol

I’m no sleep expert, but I do know some people require more sleep, some less. One might experiment with more (or staying up after the 6:00 “wakeup call”) to see whether that relieves the hung over feeling.

The body does a lot of things during sleep, including getting rid of all sorts of toxins accumulated during the day. It has only so many ways to do it. The need to go at 6:00 a.m. might not relate to anything at all other than that, and whether one had anything to drink or not probably has little or nothing to do with it.

Oh yes, I should have added this. A doctor friend once told me that most heart attacks and strokes occur just as a person is waking up. The reason, he said, is that the metabolic rate is extremely low during late sleep. Then some part of your brain tells your body to surge with all kinds of things, including adrenalin, to get you going. The hung over feeling might simply relate to that surge in a body that isn’t quite ready for what the chemistry is telling it to do.

You should talk to a physician about a possible sleep disorder.
from CDC: Key Sleep Disorders
If you have sleep apnea, for example, that might explain the poor quality of your sleep.

Treatment is important because poor sleep has serious health consequences.


That advice is spot on. I’ve had sleep apnea all my life (54 years), and got it diagnosed and started treating it with a B I-PAP machine within the last two years. The negative effects of such a disorder are not to be underestimated. Lack of proper sleep has affected every aspect of my life negatively–school, work, relationships.

I’ve been helped sufficiently by this device that I’ve profoundly wished they had been available before the 1990s. My life might have been quite different in some ways. Don’t you make the same mistake. Get checked out and treated if you have sleep apnea.

How much exercise do you get during the day?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit