Posts Tagged First and second sleep

Sleep hygiene

It’s a bit startling that getting good night’s sleep is given such a low priority when it comes to healthy living.

Maybe this will soon change. There is a rather off-putting term known as “sleep hygiene” seeping into medical journals. And now a lay person who himself sleepwalks has delved into the subject of sleep and has written a book about it. There is an article in the Wall Street Journal referring to it.


Zlatko Glusica was the captain of an Air India Express plane carrying 166 passengers from Dubai to Mangalore, a bustling port city on India’s southern coast. As his Boeing 737 approached the city, Mr. Glusica woke up from a nap in the cockpit and took over the controls. His co-pilot warned him repeatedly that he was coming in at the wrong angle and that he should pull up and try again. The last sound on the cockpit recorder was the co-pilot screaming that they didn’t have any runway left. The plane overshot the landing and burst into flames. Only eight people survived. An investigation found that the captain was suffering from “sleep inertia.”

The accident was a fatal reminder of the power of something prosaic that most of us typically don’t give much thought: sleep. Yet it’s a lesson that is habitually forgotten. Since that 2010 Air India flight, sleepy pilots have been at the center of several near-accidents, including two this year. In April, 16 passengers of an Air Canada flight were injured after the plane’s pilot went into a sudden dive after he mistook the planet Venus for an oncoming plane. And in July, a Texas judge found that a JetBlue pilot’s bizarre ranting in the cabin was a psychotic breakdown that may have been caused by a lack of sleep.

The book is:

By David K Randall

Please read DISCLAIMER by clicking on LEGAL tab above




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First and second sleep

One of the dubious “privileges” of being a junior hospital doctor a few decades ago was that you experienced many of the symptoms and signs that go along with sleep deprivation. Indeed being on call from a Friday morning to a Monday evening with only the occasional odd hour or so of sleep grabbed between emergencies was not all that uncommon. Shift work for doctors did not exist then – that would have been a real luxury during these years.

Possibly as a consequence of experiencing total exhaustion during that time, getting enough sleep to function properly has always been very important to me.

Most of us, including myself are of the view that 8 hours unbroken sleep a night is what is required to refresh and enable you to function optimally the next day.

However, there was an article on the BBC website yesterday that I found fascinating and it suggests that perhaps we should be sleeping in two chunks of four hours with a period of being awake for one to two hours in between.



“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 had 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.
Though sleep scientists were impressed by the study, among the general public the idea that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours persists.”

History supports this. Apparently, up to the late seventeenth century, normal sleep was considered divided into “first sleep” and “second sleep.” This concept gradually disappeared and by the 20th century it seems to have been forgotten about.

Roger Ekirch is a historian and has researched the phenomenon of first and second sleep.

“During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.”

Roger Ekirch has written a couple of books about this:



It is fascinating stuff, but will it have any implications for insomniacs? Perhaps it is the normal work patterns imposed on us nowadays by society that turns some people who cannot adapt to an uninterrupted sleeping pattern into insomniacs. Who knows?

Although not an insomniac myself, I’m temped to buy the book and after reading it hand it on a friend who has been bedevilled with insomnia all her life.



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