experience narrative

Segmented Sleep Follow-Up

It's been nearly a week since I stopped segmenting my sleep on purpose. I'm gearing up this weekend to start the 2nd half of my sleep experiment - the 30 hour cycle. Here is what's been going on:

I've been using electric lights. The sun goes down, the lights are already on. It took me about 2 days to go right back to the way I usually sleep - without so much as a though or a bit of effort. The only thing I miss about that is that I liked having the candlelight. It was sweet and it was relaxing. So I may just use candlelight sometimes when I need calm. 

I've been naturally segmenting. Since I go to sleep somewhere between 11PM and 3AM, depending on what's going on, my natural wakefulness happens when it happens. For example, I got up in the middle of the night after having gone to bed at midnight - the time I woke was 5:38AM. I just woke up and sat on the end of the bed for a minute. I was hot, but that's all I really thought about. And I went back to bed. Last night, I went to bed around 1:30AM, and this morning about 7:15AM, I woke up for a good 20 minutes. 

What will really be interesting, I think, is if I naturally segment during my 30 hour cycle. Keep up with me here, and anything could happen in slumber-land. 

Day 20: Conclusions

It's over. Today I finished the first leg of my sleep experiment - Segmented Sleep. I kept a log of the hours I actually 'slept.' I put slept in quotations there because what I really did was log when I went to sleep. I didn't actually fall asleep at these minutes. I could never record that without someone watching me and recording it for me. As I said in the introduction - "I am not an expert," nor did I do this in a lab. I did it out of sheer curiosity. Below are my conclusions:

Log of actual bedtime and waketime hours during my experiment.

Log of actual bedtime and waketime hours during my experiment.

As you can see above, I went to bed each night between 9PM and 10:30PM. Much of this hinged on how my day was going - what was I involved in doing that day, who I was hanging out with, or where I was other than at home. You may also be able to see that I began getting out of bed later and later in the morning. I have found that my body - my female circadian rhythm - does not care at all that the sun has come up. She wants to sleep in the morning. There is little I can apparently do about this. I am not an earlier riser and likely never will be. 

Interestingly, and quite surprisingly, I found that getting up in the middle of the night - that nameless wake time between first and second sleep - was very easy. I woke up naturally 5 out of 20 of the nights. You can see that I indicated 'natural wake up' with an uppercase 'N.' I hypothesize I would have woken up naturally more often, had I continued to go to sleep earlier. 

Probably the most surprising conclusion I came to during this study was that I didn't feel I needed to force my body very often to wake up or to sleep. While I did use alarms, I used soothing alarms so I wouldn't startle myself out of a REM cycle unnaturally. This ended up meaning that I was more aware of my cycles during first sleep. And, like studies have shown, I slept deeper during second sleep, and had my most vivid dreams in the morning hours. 

Right from the beginning of the study, I wondered whether or not waking with others - family or communally - would make the process easier. I didn't have the pleasure of doing this communally, but I did find a friend who would participate in my mid-wake hours. And it is hard to place a value comparison on waking alone versus waking with another human. I enjoyed both quite immensely. I enjoyed the quiet reflective time in the night alone. And I equally enjoyed talking with someone. Last night, for my last purposeful wake time, I went out and had a beer with a friend. It was interesting because I felt like we were out much earlier, yet we were surrounded by the 1AM crowd, complete with drunk girls dancing near a pool table, and an ambulance showing up for some patio ruckus. The experience, while enjoyable because I was with a friend, was strange. I assume that if most people slept in segments, the 1AM crowd would be calmer, perhaps less drunk, and the experience would seem less artificial on my end. 

Over the course of the next few days, I'm curious to find out if I will wake in the night on my own, even though I will have no alarms or reminders set, I'll no longer be keeping a log, and no longer be writing about it. One thing I'm really looking forward to is having social time in the night, and not having to tell other adults that my bedtime is at 8:51PM. 

I plan on taking a week off from my experiment. I need a break from science. Please do check back, as I will likely have a follow up post on here soon. And I will be planning the 30 hour cycle as soon as I'm ready to experiment on myself again. 

Day 18: Now I'm Just Messing Around

I read in several sources (which really means I read a bunch of sources about Roger Ekirch's source) that many people didn't even get out of bed during wakeful time - that nameless time between sleeps. So last night, I tried it. I was awake for roughly 5 minutes, of which I remember nothing except that I was awake. I think. 

The result was that today, I had as much, or more energy as/than I normally do. As I mentioned in one of the first posts, I have so much consistent energy, that it becomes somewhat overwhelming to people around me. I have noticed over the course of this study, that when I sleep in segments, I am much calmer, yet still well rested. Since I was barely awake last night, I slept for approximately 9-10 hours, which is my preferred number of hours when I adhere to my normal sleep schedule. Today, I was a bouncing (I literally bounce around the house on my toes) ball of energy. 

It's hard to place a value judgement on this dispersal of energy. One does not seem to be more productive than the other, though I find I eat a lot more when I have more energy. I'm not sure I even have a preference. It does, however, make me curious to know how this whole thing would fare for someone with a more normative energy level. 

Too bad I can't experiment on myself that way... 

Day 16: Bring on the Electric Lights

I messed with my experiment by accident yesterday. 

I sat down around noon to begin writing the literature review portion of my dissertation prospectus (a heady endeavor to be sure), and next thing I knew, there was a pile of dishes I don't remember creating, and the sun had gone down - but I hadn't turned down the lights as the sun set. 

I suspect the reason I forgot to turn the lights off was because I was completely unaware that I should be getting tired because I was otherwise occupied. It could also be because I was busy consulting actual, physical texts, and candlelight would not have been conducive to massive text consultation. 

I noticed two things, as soon as I figured out the sun had gone down:

1. Electric light absolutely has an effect on my ability to get tired. 

2. I can decide whether or not to be tired - at least I can when I'm regularly getting enough sleep. 

I went to sleep last night the latest I have yet - at 10:39PM. And according to Benjamin Franklin, I was being rather ill-behaved. Even so, I woke up just after 8AM, so my body didn't try to make up for the lost hour, as I suspected it would. 

Tonight though, I am back to candlelight, and yet... not tired again. I have about 3 day to get to the bottom of this. Perhaps it's because I get energized when I'm having long writing days. Perhaps it is something else entirely. 

Day 14: Spontaneous Adventure

As I suspected, I have begun to experiment with this second half of my segmented sleep study. Two nights ago, I left from Decatur, GA to visit a friend in Augusta, GA, completely spontaneously. For those of you on the west side of this country, this is roughly the same distance as Flagstaff to Phoenix. 


The selling point for me was that my friend was willing to let me continue my sleep experiment at his house, and he even agreed not to use electric lights during the night time hours. It mostly worked the way we planned. I arrived at his place at almost exactly 9PM, famished. He made some food, which needed a small electric light aid, but for the most part, I remained light free. Of course I was tired from my now normal sleep routine, and the 2 hour drive on an unfamiliar highway. I also have never eaten an actual meal right before bed like this before. I wonder sometimes whether my hyper-consciousness over my own digestion is due to my own noticing of it, or whether it's due to my continual reading about pre-industrial obsession with human digestion. 

I had a little trouble falling to sleep because I could hear my friend moving around the house, and there were a lot of blue blinking lights that my house lacks. But it didn't take long. The whole thing went just as it usually does, except there was another person to be awake with me, which I have been wanting to try since the beginning of this. 

It was really nice having someone to hang out with and talk to in the middle of the night. Nothing else was different than normal - I could tell I had just eaten; I was very thirsty; I was incredibly calm - but it was a different calm since I could chat with my friend. 

The next night, he volunteered to go to sleep at the same time as me, and wake up in the middle of the night with me, and so on. The result was that we stayed up nearly twice as long in the middle of the night. I felt suddenly like there was so much more to do, even though we had no intention of going anywhere, or doing much. It was incredibly pleasant - having another person there to share the darkness and the generally unfamiliar quiet of between sleeps. This answers one of my first questions that arose when I began this study: "Was it easier and more worthwhile to be awake for several hours in the night when your family/community was also at it?" 

The answer, I believe is decidedly 'yes.' As long as you like your family/community, getting up in the middle of the night and hanging out, or whatever it is you naturally do in the waking hours, should be easier, and more pleasant in general. 

Sharing is nice.