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Insomnia? Or is your body just asking to sleep like our ancestors did?


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hello! I thought this post might be helpful to some of you...as usual, there are LOTS OF LINKS in the body of the text, so if you want to see and click on them you need to follow the link to the original article: http://beyondmeds.com/2012/03/13/segmentedsleep/


Insomnia? Or is your body just asking to sleep like our ancestors did?


The links to articles about segmented sleep has been sitting in my draft folder for over a week now. This is a subject I've been wanting to write about for a couple of years, well before this more recent news cycle about the phenomena. I first read about segmented sleep via Wikipedia when someone shared the link with me.


Since then, like Lynn Parramore in this alternet article who found some peace of mind in learning how to listen to her body's needs, the knowledge has informed my experience, too, as my body heals and learns to sleep again without drugs.


I am happy to share this information with my readers finally, since I think it may help and inform many.


Myth of the 8 hour sleep -- BBC News


We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night - but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.


In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.


It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep....




...Today, most people seem to have adapted quite well to the eight-hour sleep, but Ekirch believes many sleeping problems may have roots in the human body's natural preference for segmented sleep as well as the ubiquity of artificial light.


This could be the root of a condition called sleep maintenance insomnia, where people wake during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, he suggests.


The condition first appears in literature at the end of the 19th Century, at the same time as accounts of segmented sleep disappear.


"For most of evolution we slept a certain way," says sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs. "Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology."


The idea that we must sleep in a consolidated block could be damaging, he says, if it makes people who wake up at night anxious, as this anxiety can itself prohibit sleeps and is likely to seep into waking life too.

So, yeah, since I withdrew from all psychiatric drugs my sleep has been struggling to come back online. Many people coming off of psychiatric drugs are struck with severe withdrawal syndromes and autonomic dysfunction and so need to basically learn to sleep again. The process is rather agonizing and slow.


I'm still in the midst of it, hardly home-free, but learning about segmented sleep as a normal human mode of sleep has helped me tremendously. Instead of fretting about getting up in the middle of the night after a "first sleep," I began to embrace that time as some of my waking hours.


Lynn Parramore in this alternet article:


This waking period, known in some cultures as the “watch," was filled with everything from bringing in the animals to prayer. Some folks visited neighbors. Others smoked a pipe or analyzed their dreams. Often they lounged in bed to read, chat with bedfellows, or have much more refreshing sex than we modern humans have at bedtime. A 16th-century doctor’s manual prescribed sex after the first sleep as the most enjoyable variety.


I found that once I embraced this "waking period" I actually started using the time in the middle of the night quite creatively. I often do my best writing after my first sleep and before my second sleep! Also I've noticed that if I fight what I've become to see as as need to get up in the middle of the night, I'm less likely to get back to sleep at all. My body wants to and performs better if I get up for 1 to 3 hours in the middle of the night!


Again Lynn Parramore:


We have been told over and over that the eight-hour sleep is ideal. But in many cases, our bodies have been telling us something else. Since our collective memory has been erased, anxiety about nighttime wakefulness has kept us up even longer, and our eight-hour sleep mandate may have made us more prone to stress.


Since I'm disabled and mostly homebound it's been relatively easy and not at all additionally stressful to experiment with this way of sleeping. In fact it's only just helped me a whole lot. I realize that for people with jobs and commitments outside their homes that this way of sleeping might present a challenge.


For example I most often go to bed between 7 and 8 pm. I am then up somewhere between midnight and 2 am for a couple or 3 hours and then I return to bed where I again sleep. I get that people with busy 21st century lives might find it hard to find some variation of that theme. Still if one can figure out a way to manage something of the sort I think it might be very helpful for a lot of people who have imagined and been told they have insomnia.


In any case many people who read this blog have learned the hard way that sleeping pills are pretty much useless at best and dangerous at worst. Benzodiazepine use (or their cousins, the z-drugs) and the subsequent withdrawal from them can cause a far worse issue with iatrogenic insomnia and autonomic dysfunction as well as serious protracted withdrawal.


Like Lynn Parramore shares in her article on alternet:


The pharmaceutical industry recommends drug-induced oblivion, which, it turns out, doesn’t even work. The average time spent sleeping increases by only a few minutes with the use of prescription sleep aids. And -- surprise! -- doctors have just linked sleeping pills to cancer.

And don't forget these drugs have also been linked to early death. and they cause atrocious withdrawal syndromes in a significant minority of people who use them. For a long list of links to information on benzodiazepine use and withdrawal see here. Learn to avoid these drugs and to sleep as nature intended instead!


I highly recommend reading all of Lynn Parramore's piece on alternet. She goes into some great more details about sleeping like our ancestors did.

Everything Matters: Beyond Meds 


withdrawn from a cocktail of 6 psychiatric drugs that included every class of psych drug.

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My boyfriend sent me that article and I find it fascinating. I wish I could experiment with my sleep schedule. It's impossible with work now, but eventually I hope to take some time off and I may try this. I know a lot of older people who sleep in shifts, or who rely on a nap during the day. I have a fantasy about going out somewhere in the forest to live for a while and see where my natural inclinations would take me if not surrounded by ringing phones and electric lights.


Thanks for your insights!

'94-'08 On/off ADs. Mostly Zoloft & Wellbutrin, but also Prozac, Celexa, Effexor, etc.
6/08 quit Z & W after tapering, awful anxiety 3 mos. later, reinstated.
11/10 CTed. Severe anxiety 3 mos. later & @ 8 mos. much worse (set off by metronidazole). Anxiety, depression, anhedonia, DP, DR, dizziness, severe insomnia, high serum AM cortisol, flu-like feelings, muscle discomfort.
9/11-9/12 Waves and windows of recovery.
10/12 Awful relapse, DP/DR. Hydrocortisone?
11/12 Improved fairly quickly even though relapse was one of worst waves ever.

1/13 Best I've ever felt.

3/13 A bit of a relapse... then faster and shorter waves and windows.

4/14 Have to watch out for triggers, but feel completely normal about 80% of the time.

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Interesting. On my usual work schedule I don't know if I can make this work but I might try. Interestingly though when I work graveyard shift this is the pattern that actually works best. I've resisted it but maybe next time I work nights I'll try just letting it happen.


Hard to follow natural patterns in any way when you work our eight hour (well ten in my case) not-changing-for-seasons artifical lifestyle. It works best for the captains of capitalism to have their workers fit this pattern--we're like pieces of machinery producing for them. I often wish I were living in a different time in history when people were allowed to be humans and not just workers.

Started on Prozac and Xanax in 1992 for PTSD after an assault. One drug led to more, the usual story. Got sicker and sicker, but believed I needed the drugs for my "underlying disease". Long story...lost everything. Life savings, home, physical and mental health, relationships, friendships, ability to work, everything. Amitryptiline, Prozac, bupropion, buspirone, flurazepam, diazepam, alprazolam, Paxil, citalopram, lamotrigine, gabapentin...probably more I've forgotten. 

Started multidrug taper in Feb 2010.  Doing a very slow microtaper, down to low doses now and feeling SO much better, getting my old personality and my brain back! Able to work full time, have a full social life, and cope with stress better than ever. Not perfect, but much better. After 23 lost years. Big Pharma has a lot to answer for. And "medicine for profit" is just not a great idea.


Feb 15 2010:  300 mg Neurontin  200 Lamictal   10 Celexa      0.65 Xanax   and 5 mg Ambien 

Feb 10 2014:   62 Lamictal    1.1 Celexa         0.135 Xanax    1.8 Valium

Feb 10 2015:   50 Lamictal      0.875 Celexa    0.11 Xanax      1.5 Valium

Feb 15 2016:   47.5 Lamictal   0.75 Celexa      0.0875 Xanax    1.42 Valium    

2/12/20             12                       0.045               0.007                   1 

May 2021            7                       0.01                  0.0037                1

Feb 2022            6                      0!!!                     0.00167               0.98                2.5 mg Ambien

Oct 2022       4.5 mg Lamictal    (off Celexa, off Xanax)   0.95 Valium    Ambien, 1/4 to 1/2 of a 5 mg tablet 


I'm not a doctor. Any advice I give is just my civilian opinion.

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I saw this this morning and found it so interesting. I've recently been waking at 1-1:30am after a few hours of sleep. My mood at that time is VERY different (better) than at 5-6am when i wake with intense dread and, a few days, a rage/racing thoughts that is new. The rage reminds me of the cortisol panics because it happens AS I wake - before consciously thinking about something to rage about. The dread usually takes a moment of cognition to kick in. Someone else (Jemima?) just mentioned waking with irritability.

I considered how my day would be different if I got up while in better mood and began my 'day' rather than getting anxious/angry because I woke up at the 'wrong' time. I'm not well informed about sleep architecture, but interested in role of endorphin/enkephalin spikes.

The timing of your post was perfect!


Looking at things from evolutionary point of view is fascinating. Silly comment on Big Bang Theory about women being lighter sleepers in order to be alert for baby crying (female role) triggered curiosity about how cortisol mornings differ between men and women.


"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."

~Albert Einstein -- and me :D

Pristiq tapered over 8 months ending Spring 2011 after 18 years of polydrugging that began w/Zoloft for fatigue/general malaise (not mood). CURRENT: 1mg Klonopin qhs (SSRI bruxism), 75mg trazodone qhs, various hormonesLitigation for 11 years for Work-related injury, settled 2004. Involuntary medical retirement in 2001 (age 39). 2012 - brain MRI showing diffuse, chronic cerebrovascular damage/demyelination possibly vasculitis/cerebritis. Dx w/autoimmune polyendocrine failure.<p>2013 - Dx w/CNS Sjogren's Lupus (FANA antibodies first appeared in 1997 but missed by doc).

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