Unnatural Sleep Cycles

It’s 24,000 BC and you’re a wild human being. You have no masters, rulers, bosses, or whatever title we give to people who tell us how to run our lives these days. You simply exist with those around you by managing natural systems and using your most deadly weapon, the human mind. How do you think you would manage your sleep in a natural state? Clearly there is no harsh blue light to keep you up at night. You might have the warm glow of a fire, but fueling it requires labor which is a scarce resource. You also don’t have an alarm clock to shock you out of REM sleep before dawn so you can go toil behind a desk. No, you simply follow the Earth’s natural cycles just like every other human has for the past 226, 000 years or so.

In the winter time, the day cycles are short. You spend your days hunting game since photosynthesis is at a minimum this time of year. You are in a state of ketosis most of the time since your carbohydrates are limited to a few stored fermented grains, wild tubers, and cold-hardy greens. This state of being helps you regulate weight and shed the extra pounds you gained gorging on berries from the plants you maintained during the summer months. When you are not hunting, you spend these cold days with family, making art, playing music, talking, laughing, and passing down knowledge. You go to sleep shortly after dark. Your sleep is interrupted for several hours after midnight when it is your turn to keep watch with a few others in the group. Then you sleep another 4-6 hours before lazily waking with the sun. This biphasic sleep pattern is the natural way our species evolved to rest. Only recently have we denied our natural sleep cycles…

It’s 2016 and you’re in a rush. The shrill tone of the alarm clock app on your smart phone just awoke you at 5:15AM. You rush to the kitchen and pay homage to the caffeinated gods of Keurig. After you press the button, you fumble through the cabinet looking for sugar. You will need copious amounts of caffeine and sugar to shock your body into a state of being capable to manage the commute. You arrive at your slave-job and grab another cup.

Ten hours later you’re back at home and exhausted. Your spouse picked up some fried chicken on the way home from her slave-job. You quickly scarf it down without much dinnertime conversation. Then it’s time to do all the housekeeping chores, and help the kids with their mountains of homework from the government schools. The sun has gone down hours ago by the time you crash into the couch and watch the professional liars on the local news tell you what to think. The blue glow of the LED panel interferes with your normal biological clock. You feel restless, so you take a few shots of whiskey to help you get to sleep. By midnight you make it to bed for five  fitful hours of sleep.

If this second scenario sounds in any way familiar, you might benefit from an experiment in biphasic sleep. It’s been well documented in academia that the concept of uninterrupted sleep is a very recent trend. Before electricity we used to experience cycles of sleeping and waking throughout the night. Without cheap and abundant light sources, ancient man slept in an entirely different pattern than we do today. As much as I appreciate Edison and Tesla (more-so Tesla), I have come to realize that artificial light is disruptive to our sleep.

How do we begin to regain our ancestral sleep patterns? I’m not suggesting that you should go to bed at 7PM every night and quit your job tomorrow! We have to take a gradual approach to rewilding ourselves. It took 25,000 years to get here, and we will not correct the damage overnight! Start by:

  • Turning off all electronics by 9PM in the summer or 7PM in the winter. Read a book or spend time with loved-ones instead
  • Replace unnatural and potentially toxic fluorescent bulbs with a solution that mimics natural lighting
  • Work towards financial independence so you can free yourself from slavery to the alarm clock one day
  • Go to bed earlier, wake up after midnight, and spend an hour doing something enjoyable or productive.  I bet you can think of something to do that might get your spouse on board with this idea…Break your sleep into two cycles for a week and compare your energy levels to before biphasic sleep

Sleep is an important part of what makes us human. Our bodies and minds need time to heal. This is especially important for growing children. I highly recommend taking your kids out of the government schools and letting them sleep in later. Teenagers especially need more sleep due to rapid growth, and waking up to get on the bus disrupts this critical time in your child’s development. Try to begin homeschooling in the mid-morning instead of following the traditional model of school by 8AM. Everyone’s stress levels will go down!

Give biphasic sleep and gradual awakening a try as you walk your path to rewilding.


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