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