Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Heat Bomb and Segmented Sleep

I don't know which radio show did a story on segmented sleep, but I thought it was an intriguing idea if not for me when I listened to A. Roger Ekirch explain his findings. He's an historian, and his research has led him to believe that pre-industrial human beings slept in two stages. Stage one was from about nine o'clock at night to midnight, and stage two was about two or three o'clock until the dawn (I assume the dawn hour varied with the season so that in winter, ancient sleepers would sleep more). In between the two stages, people got up and did anything and everything you could imagine.

Apparently, it was artificial light, among other factors, that reshaped our sleep pattern into one consolidated stage. But those who wake up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours don't have insomnia but are reverting to the pre-industrial segmented sleep. It's still there, lurking to come out, he said.

I don't like waking up in the dead of night -- the time between midnight and three o'clock in the morning when in superstitious times, people felt they were like the dead or the dead roamed or their souls could be stolen, something like that. It's still an unearthly quiet, freaky time, it seems like to me. I can't imagine how much more terrifying it would have been to people who had only candles to light the night. A dog close by or outside guarding the doors and windows would be a necessity!

So until the heat bomb blasted its humidity all over the city (not officially a heat wave until it's over  32C three days in a row apparently -- semantics!), I thought it simply an interesting idea but not for me. Tonight though, or should I say this morning as I'm writing this, it's more than an abstract idea. It's a reality. It's too hot during the day, even if the place I'm in is cool, to write properly, impossible to create a novel during the mushy middle time of Camp NaNoWriMo. It's like by simply lurking outside, the heat bomb has melted my brain into goo. And by the time sleep time comes, it's too hot to rest properly (unless you have central air conditioning but even then...). Only as the temperatures drop in the wee hours does relief come and with it alertness.

And so I'm experiencing segmented sleep.

I can see the advantage. Yet in the morning I will hit the reality of modern life: this kind of sleep only works if you don't have to wake up and hit the road at regular commuting hour or people don't start calling you first thing in the morning. And don't they always call the one day you sleep in late?

Segmented sleep may work if you have a chance to nap in the afternoon, but except for lucky tech employees, most still don't. Still, it's a useful way of being when Toronto's summer sauna settles in. And it may keep my productivity at winter levels.

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