Why sleeping like a Victorian could help cure insomnia
Why sleeping like a Victorian could help cure insomnia: How having two periods of slumber with a break in the middle could actually be better for you
Last week, in the first installment of my Mail on Sunday Life Plan, I tackled sleep – and how to beat insomnia. By now, I hope you’ll have put some of my advice into practice: over the past seven days you’ll have been sticking to a regular waking time, sorted out your bedroom and reset your body clock with daily, brisk morning walks. You’ll also be thinking more positively thanks to the Three Good Things exercise – recorded in your Sleep Tracker diary.
If you missed week one of the sleep plan, don’t worry – just visit mailonsunday.co.uk.
Now, in week two, I’m going to ask you to give something really radical a go. It is the method that helped me to conquer my own sleep demons.
SHOULD YOU SLEEP LIKE A VICTORIAN?
Since I hit middle age, my own sleep has followed a pattern that might be familiar: I woke up in the middle of the night, and found it hard to get back to sleep. There are other types of insomnia: not being able to get to sleep, or waking up early in the morning. But the most common type is waking in the middle of the night, particularly as we get older, partly because our sleep is much lighter, but also because of things such as having a full bladder and feeling the need to go to the toilet.
And it used to be a serious problem for me: no matter how tired I was or what time I went to bed, I’d wake up at about 3am and lie in bed, for what felt like hours, trying to get back to sleep. Finally I’d drift off, only to be dragged awake again by the alarm clock.
Then, in 2016, while researching life in Victorian slums, I came across research by Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech in the US. He claimed that my pattern – falling asleep, waking for a while, then falling asleep again – was how most people slept in pre-industrial times.
When it got dark, they would go to bed, sleep for about five hours, then get up. They would then stay awake for an hour or so – doing household chores, visiting friends or enjoying a bit of intimacy – before heading to bed again for ‘second sleep’.