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Segmented Sleep: What Is It And Can It Help Fight Insomnia?

The myth and mission of the eight-hour sleep is well known, but how we obtain it is open to interpretation.

A segmented sleep schedule is a method of splitting rest times across different parts of day and night, instead of one long rest, as we’ve generally been encourage to do. This may involve sleeping for a few hours in the night and then a few hours during the morning or afternoon, for example.

“In UK culture our sleep is largely monophasic, meaning that we tend to have one long sleep at night whereas in hotter climates such as Spain they have a biphasic pattern of sleeping, opting for an afternoon nap which coincides with the hottest time of the day,” Dr Maja Schaedel, clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Good Sleep Clinic tells GLAMOUR.

While a “monophasic” sleep pattern is the norm in the UK, this wasn’t always the case. “We have adopted a biphasic pattern of sleeping in the past,” Dr Schaedel adds. “During the Dickensian era people would have two sleeps: a first sleep and second sleep.

“Each sleep would last approximately four hours and in between the sleeps we would wake up to engage in various activities, such as socialising, drinking, having sex, however this pattern is thought to be driven by sociological factors such as the industrial revolution and is not necessarily biologically driven.”

If done properly, and it works with your sleep style and habits, segmented can work, according to sleep expert and chartered psychologist Dr Lindsay Browning says. 

“In theory, you don’t have to sleep in one solid block for it to constitute good quality sleep,” she says. “When we sleep, we tend to have approximately 90 to 110 minutes sleep cycles. If we break up our recommended daily 7-9 hours’ sleep into segments, as long as we aren’t breaking the sleep into smaller chunks than a full sleep cycle itself, then we will still get the overall sleep benefits that we need.”

Since the industrial revolution, and the modern workplace has oriented more and more around “productivity” we’ve moved more towards a monophasic sleep pattern, but is it the only way? We asked the big questions.

Can segmented sleep help combat afternoon sluggishness?

If you hit a productivity or energy wall during the afternoon, you may benefit from some form of rest in the middle of the day. It’s natural to experience a drop in physical alertness around 2 to 4pm, according to Dr Schaedel, and you can help to combat that with segmented sleep.

This can particularly help if you’re not getting enough sleep at night. “Having a top-up second sleep is preferable to only sleeping for one short block during the day and experiencing potential sleep deprivation,” Dr Browning says. 

Can segmented sleep help those who suffer with insomnia?

In short, not necessarily. “Segmented sleep can be useful when you are unable to get enough sleep at night due to a child keeping you awake or because you have work commitments in the middle of the night,” Dr Browning advises, although she warns against committing to it if you suffer from insomnia, because it could reduce the “sleep pressure” or “sleep drive” needed to sleep the length of time needed to stay healthy.

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