Got Insomnia? Sleep on this.
Research shows we're not resting as God intended.
If it's after midnight where you are and you're struggling to fall asleep, this article is for you. In the past century, sleeping patterns in the US and around the world have fallen into an unnatural cycle, causing insomnia, affecting daily performance, and driving people towards pharmaceutical drugs to control sleep.
Your insomnia may be caused by society's insistence that you sleep for a single eight-hour block at night instead of following a natural pattern.
In 2001, Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a paper based on 16 years of historical research. The evidence he drew upon reveal a long-lost historical fact: humans used to sleep in two periods, not one as we do today.
Professor Ekirch published a book based on his studies, "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past" which was published in 2005. In the book, he presents more than 500 historical references to segmented sleep schedules drawn from diaries to literature and even court records. He also uses anthropological data from the modern tribes of Nigeria to support his claim with contemporary evidence.
In the book, Ekirch describes a "first sleep" which started within a couple hours of nightfall. After this period, people awakened for about one to two hours, then returned for a longer period called "second sleep."
A number of influences prompted the transition from a natural sleep pattern to an unnatural one. The development of street lighting in the late 17th century meant that people could stay out past dark in relative safety. Coffee imports from the Americas made the drink popular and kept people awake, and the influence of Calvinistic notions that equated sleep with laziness heavily influenced dominant sleep patterns. These influences were particularly strong in urban areas. By the early 20th century, the notion that sleep should be taken in a single eight-hour chunk became the norm.
Still, in many Catholic regions, sleep is still taken in two chunks, with an afternoon siesta and sleep in the evening, sometimes well after dark. Across much of the world, children are often laid to rest for afternoon naps, although this is probably as much for the parent's benefit as the child's.
For most adults however, falling asleep on cue in the evening and remaining asleep through the night is a daunting task that is dreaded because failure can mean difficulty in the day ahead. It also causes anxiety and stress as the individual struggles with the psychological pressure to return to sleep when their body refuses.
Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford explains to patients, "I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern." Meanwhile, sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs contends the two-stage sleep pattern is "normal human physiology." Moreover, Jacobs believes "Over 30% of the medical problems that doctors are faced with stem directly or indirectly from sleep. But sleep has been ignored in medical training and there are very few centers where sleep is studied."
With doctors ignoring the fact that our current sleep patterns are unnatural, and our society insisting on a single-block sleep pattern, we may be undermining the body's natural ability to regulate stress, leading to dependence on sleep aids and other psychoactive drugs to fight anxiety and depression.
Ekirch found that in the waking period between sleep, people once engaged in many activities. One common activity was prayer and meditation. Unfortunately, by forcing ourselves into an unnatural sleep pattern and viewing quiet personal time as "wasteful" we find dramatic increases in anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism, and drug use. Perhaps we have it wrong - for time spent in prayer and contemplation is never wasted time, something to think about as you lie awake tonight.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: insomnia, sleep, prayer, meditation, sleep cycle, drugs, stress, anxiety
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