NPR did a couple of interesting stories about sleep habits, including one mentioning an experiment in which people were put in a room with a 14-hour period of darkness every day, mimicking winter months without electric lights. People settled fairly quickly into sleeping in two four-hour shifts, with an hour or two of calm, introspective wakefulness between the two sleep periods. Apparently there are references to “first sleep” and “second sleep” throughout historical writing, but with the advent of electric lights, we all stay up later, now. They mention that just in the last 50 years, the average sleep duration for Americans has gone from 8.5 hours to somewhere between 6 and 7.
They provided a link to this series of questions and answers with a sleep doctor; one question was too familiar to me and the people I know not to excerpt.
I just keep doing things at night rather than go to bed. I don’t wind down and go to bed, even though I pass the logical hour that would assure I get adequate sleep. I feel tired the next day and wish I had gotten more sleep. Why is there a disconnect for some people? The night owl doesn’t recognize there is a morning to deal with. — Tara Lawrence, Los Gatos, Calif.
I am not sure why we are so uncoachable at night! Most night owls love the quiet, uninterrupted solitude. Some have obsessive qualities and just can’t let go. And I think most of us just have too much to do in the daylight hours, and it spills over into our nights. The challenge is to set a schedule for yourself with a reward system (you get to decide what your own reward is!) that will make you want to let go and go to sleep. It’s common for someone going to sleep, on average, at 2 a.m., to make a resolution to go to bed at 11 p.m. The switch is just too dramatic and we can’t adapt, so you get into bed and get aggravated that you can’t fall asleep. I would suggest that you try to adjust your schedule back in 20-minute increments — and remember to adjust your wake-up time earlier by the same amount. Once you can consistently fall asleep 20 minutes earlier — usually after a few days — it’s time to take on another 20-minute challenge.