Have you ever woken in the middle of the night, only to wonder why? You’re not coughing, your partner is not snoring, and after a moment of tense listening, you decide that everything else is quiet as well. Episodes like this can be frustrating. As you try to fall back to sleep, you may worry about the rest you are losing, which can raise your stress level and make it more difficult to regain your slumber quickly. Barring any condition that causes sleep deprivation, bouts of unexplained wakefulness may be your body recalling its ancestral sleep patterns. Waco dentist, Dr. Corbet Locke, discusses the role fragmented sleep once played in our ancestors’ lives.

When Night Was Still a Mystery…

According to 16 years of research conducted by Virginia Tech historian, Roger Ekirch, eight hours of continuous sleep is a relatively new concept to humans. Before the 17th century, when the night was still associated with evil and disrepute, people rarely ventured out into the dark hours of night. This created a large block of time that people could dedicate to resting. The over 500 references that Ekirch unearthed casually refer to a sleep cycle that began a couple of hours after dusk. The first sleep was followed by one or two hours of wakefulness, and then another period of sleep. This wakeful period was spent reading, writing, praying, visiting with neighbors, or smoking tobacco. A 16th century French doctor’s manual even advised couples that this was the best time to conceive, instead of at the end of a long day’s work. As society and technology progressed, however, the night began to come alive. Innovations in home and public lighting erased much of the mystery surrounding the night, and nighttime public activities became more important than an extra period of rest.

Stress Management

Experts believe these midnight hours, when people were forced into a period of rest and relaxation, may have played an important part in our natural ability to handle stress. These experts are not surprised that, as our fragmented sleep pattern was replaced with a continuous one, stress disorders such as depression and anxiety have gone up.

If you suspect your wakefulness is caused by a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea,  schedule a consultation with Dr. Locke by calling our Waco dental office at (254) 776-4888. We welcome patients from Waco, Woodway, McGregor, Hewitt, and surrounding communities.