Has Nigella found the recipe for a per­fect night’s sleep?

Daily Mail - - DR MAX -

SuCh is our fas­ci­na­tion with Nigella Law­son, it seems no ut­ter­ance of hers goes un­re­ported. Last month she re­vealed she has a weak­ness for self-help books, but was too em­bar­rassed to re­veal which ones.

This week, she told a pod­cast au­di­ence that she’s cut back on al­co­hol, be­cause it ex­ac­er­bates her anx­i­ety.

Both are in­ter­est­ing in­sights, but nei­ther is quite as fas­ci­nat­ing as Nigella’s re­cent rev­e­la­tions about her sleep pat­terns. I think she’s on to some­thing.

In a woman’s magazine in­ter­view, Nigella said she’s of­ten in bed by 7.30pm and sleeps in two- hour bursts. In be­tween, she gets up, pot­ters around and makes tea, be­fore go­ing back and sleep­ing for an­other two hours.

It sounds crazy — surely she must be se­ri­ously sleep- de­prived. Ev­ery­one needs a good, un­in­ter­rupted eight hours, don’t they?

Ac­tu­ally, they don’t. In fact, Nigella’s mode of sleep­ing is far more in keep­ing with his­toric sleep pat­terns than the sin­gle pe­riod of sleep so many of us aspire to now.

We tend to as­sume our fore­fa­thers re­tired to bed at sun­down and rose with the sun. Well, we as­sume wrong. In­stead, they had what is known as a bipha­sic sleep pat­tern — they’d sleep for four hours and then get up, do house­hold chores, pray, eat, have sex, even visit neigh­bours. Then they’d go back to sleep for an­other four hours. PRAYER

man­u­als from the 15th cen­tury stip­u­lated spe­cific prayers for the wak­ing hours be­tween sleeps, while it was com­monly be­lieved that this pe­riod was a good time to try to con­ceive a child.

Monopha­sic sleep — which de­scribes the eight hours we cur­rently strive for — is a rel­a­tively new con­cept. It de­vel­oped as a re­sult of var­i­ous so­cial fac­tors, in­clud­ing the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, which saw the in­tro­duc­tion of shift work­ing, and later the in­stal­la­tion of gas and elec­tric light­ing in homes.

By the late 1600s, bipha­sic sleep pat­terns started to be re­placed by monopha­sic pat­terns, start­ing with the ur­ban up­per classes and, over the next 200 years, fil­ter­ing down to all parts of so­ci­ety.

So the way we sleep to­day goes against tens of thou­sands of years of hu­man evo­lu­tion — and I believe that is a fac­tor in the epi­demic of sleep prob­lems we face.

Around two-thirds of us re­port dif­fi­cul­ties sleep­ing, ac­cord­ing to The Sleep Coun­cil. half of us lie awake wor­ry­ing, with only a quar­ter say­ing they get enough sleep.

Could it be that our bod­ies are yearn­ing to re­turn to the nat­u­ral, bipha­sic pat­tern?

An ex­per­i­ment con­ducted in the Nineties by psy­chi­a­trist Dr Thomas Wehr cer­tainly sug­gests that.

he took a group of vol­un­teers and placed them in dark­ness for 14 hours a day, ev­ery day for a month. It took a while for their sleep to reg­u­late but, with no clocks and cut off from the out­side world, they fell into a very dis­tinct sleep pat­tern.

They would sleep for four hours, wake for sev­eral hours and be ac­tive, then go back to sleep again for a fur­ther four hours. When given the op­por­tu­nity, the body adopts the bipha­sic pat­tern of the past.

I know sev­eral peo­ple plagued by sleep prob­lems who have adopted al­ter­na­tive sleep­ing pat­terns with very pos­i­tive results. I re­alise it’s hard to in­tro­duce two or three ‘sleeps’ spread through the night if you have to be up by 6am with the kids and get to work. But it is pos­si­ble.

I had one pa­tient, a suc­cess­ful il­lus­tra­tor, who suf­fered from in­som­nia for years — un­til she changed how and when she slept. She started go­ing to bed when her chil­dren did at around 8pm. She’d get up at mid­night and then work pro­duc­tively for sev­eral hours in peace. Af­ter do­ing the school run, she’d go back to bed for an­other four hours. She felt fan­tas­tic.

For many of us, our body clocks sim­ply aren’t tuned to the de­mands mod­ern life places on us when it comes to how we sleep. Per­haps we should take note of what Nigella does and find out what our bod­ies re­ally want. DrMax@dai­ly­mail.co.uk

Dr MAXDOCTOR

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