As it turns out, our species is more prone to a “major sleep” of several hours following nightfall, a brief period of waking, then a “minor sleep” to get back into the daylight hours. The article suggests that, culturally, we have conditioned ourselves to sleep all the way through the night, and this may be why we often wake up feeling more exhausted than when we went to bed. The secret to successfully waking up at the end of the major sleep period is having a certain amount of slightly uncomfortable external stimuli. Our bodies become rather deadened to the outside world in the depths of our sleep cycle, but towards the edges (just after falling asleep and just before waking up,) they are sensitive enough that very subtle changes can make the difference between consciousness and slumber.
I have tested this by intentionally falling asleep on my couch, rather than in my bed, with a lamp on in my living room, and for the past three nights I have woken up around 3:00 in the morning after originally going to sleep between 10:00 and 11:00. The last two nights, I simply turned off the lamp, went back to bed, and woke up again at six feeling exhausted. Tonight (rather, this morning,) I decided to try to be a little more productive. See, I’m not entirely convinced that the minor sleep is necessary. I think it’s a holdover from a time when the lack of electric lighting restricted our productive hours to daytime. The literature suggest that our bodies rest in sleep cycles that roughly correlate to two or more hour and a half chunks, and that there’s no scientific reason the number should add up to eight. In fact, science suggests (http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Cheat_on_the_Need_to_Sleep) that people who only sleep between six and seven hours a night tend to live longer than people who sleep eight. So here’s the bottom line: I’m not going to go back to sleep this morning. I’m going to go ahead and start my day. If I get incredibly exhausted, then that will be a valuable learning experience about the merits of minor sleep, but if I don’t, then I will have six extra hours a day that begin with me waking up naturally, without an alarm, feeling quite refreshed and invigorated. Wish me luck.