8 Hours Sleep is Essential: Does it Matter if it’s Split into Two?

Most accounts of healthy, necessary, daily sleep hours aim between seven and nine. But, what about if we get eight hours, split into two sections of four hours each? History may surprisingly depict the latter to be perfectly acceptable.
According to Dr. Melinda Jackson, a specialist in sleep disorders, sleeping for 8-hours continuously is a modern creation. “Spilt-sleeping” used to be the norm. Our circadian rhythm (our internal body clocks) may be the best judge of whether two separate slumbers work best for our health.

The history of sleep

In fact, the knowledge we’ve obtained from researchers (and history) shows that two shorter period of sleep per day actually increases our alertness. One example proven: The Siesta.
Workers in the past didn’t have the opportunity to sleep for long periods of time. Whether at home, on the battlefield, or on the farm, shorter bouts of shut-eye sufficed in order to spend awake time with the family. Waking up in the middle of night, for us, may be an evolutionary call-back to the way people used to sleep.

“There have been numerous accounts of segmented sleep, from medical texts, to court records and diaries…with a common reference to ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleep,” report Drs. Jackson and Banks. “Anthropologists have found evidence that during preindustrial Europe, sleeping in two chunks was considered the norm.
According to historian A. Roger Ekirch, households slept for a few hours when the sun went down, but then awoke in the middle of the night. In order to re-retire until sunrise, they spent time reading, sewing, relaxing, or having sex. Ekrich, through research, discovered that the “first and second sleep” started to disappear during the late 17th century. Coincidentally, insomnia (according to literature) rose at that point and increased thereafter.

Naptime during the workday?

The growing encouragement of naptime supports this theory that two separate periods of awake-time benefit creativity, productivity, and mood enhancement—with two islands of sleep, rather than one large continent.

A number of recent studies have found split-sleep provides comparable benefits for performance to one big sleep, if the total sleep time per 24 hours was maintained (at around seven to eight hours total sleep time per 24 hours).”

This is fascinating information and may truly be a health goldmine. However, safety from lack-of-sleep has not been factored into this research. Accordingly, it’s not really well known if these (or those) folk who split-sleep are at an overall health detriment compared to a “full” night’s sleep. Regardless, why not get all the sleep you can, within reason, and see where you fare on this debate?
Previously we did an article on ways to help you fall asleep because sleep is so important.