So Retro: Ronnie Tries Bimodal Sleeping

Bimodal Sleep: Day 3

throwback

We sure do love our throwbacks. The word “vintage” is probably enough to justify jacking up the price of any item on etsy. “Retro” is a good thing. And #tbt is a hashtag that exists. I would even argue that we’ve just been rehashing other eras of fashion since 2000 (e.g. the hippie bell-bottom look of the 70s, leggings and tunics of the 80s and 90s, and now Gatsby). Don’t even get me started on today’s pop music.*

Who knows why we have this preoccupation with the past? Perhaps there just aren’t any more original ideas and we have to recycle old ones in new combinations…

Regardless of the why of it all, the same recycling of ideas happens in fitness. The entire foundation of diets like paleo and barefoot or minimus running is that they harken back to a simpler time of prehistory when humans were supposedly healthier and happier. I even read an entire book on how to “beat” depression “naturally” (i.e. without drugs) and its thesis was very much the four tenets of recapturing the past:

  • Go outside into the sun more often to do the Vitamin D thing
  • Eat more greens and omega-3s and less sugar and carbs (apparently carbs contain serotonin or whatever and that’s why you crave them when you’re sad, because you’re self-medicating)
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
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The reasoning was that cavemen never had to deal with depression, so what were they doing that we modern humans aren’t?  We should just start doing that and all the chemicals in your brain will magically rearrange themselves and that bad depression will just go away, right? This makes sense at a high level, but telling me I should imitate a lifestyle that we can’t or don’t know a lot about seems a little silly.** How do we know that cavemen didn’t get bummed out from time to time? It’s not like they could have left emo selfies or cries-for-help status updates in their cave paintings. (Perhaps anthropologists reason that depressed cavemen would not have faired as well in securing food because they wouldn’t have wanted to leave their super duper comfortable beds and wouldn’t have survived or something…)

Of course, those four suggestions are totally reasonable regardless of their relevance to historical lifestyles, so I went for it anyway. Plus, I was pretty much willing to try anything, including self-help books. Just like when I watch Hollywood versions of science films, I am fully capable of suspending my skepticism long enough to try something new–or when I am desperate.

And that’s what happened when I heard of the idea of segmented or bimodal sleep. According to the dude who wrote a paper on the topic, this more “natural” way of sleeping essentially spreads out one’s sleep in a couple 3- to 4-hour bursts over a period of about 12 hours. And it’s supposedly the way our ancestors did it until that whole electricity thing caught on, according to some random references in literature and religious texts. Now, I still think this is a little far-fetched, especially the suggestions of what people got up to during those nighttime waking hours, like go visit neighbors or read (because I’d definitely leave my warm bed and go out into the cold to talk to people I see during the day anyway, and we all know that literacy rates in the Middle Ages or whenever were second to none, not to mention how plentiful reading material must have been). But since I tend to wake up about 4 hours into the night like clockwork and then have trouble getting back to sleep again, I figured, why not embrace it and actually get up and be productive?

So I am embarking on a two-week trial of segmented sleep. My sleep schedule, depending on the day of the week, will look a little like this:

  • 8:30 PM – 12:00 AM Sleep
  • 12:00 AM – 2:30 AM Wake Up and Do Stuff
  • 2:30 – 6:30 Sleep

That gives me about 7.5 hours of sleep. During the waking period, I am doing yoga and some light, stretchy cardio (my gym has virtual classes that you can put up on a projector and although they only have one short straight-up yoga class, they have a ton of yoga and pilates “fusion” classes), doing some grocery shopping at a 24-hour grocery store, and trying (for the first time) some basic meal prepping.

So far, it’s been a lot easier than I had expected to fall asleep the first time even though it’s earlier than usual. The biggest downside is that I tend to have a hard time leaving my warm, comfy bed with a normal sleep cycle, and now I have to do it twice. The period of waking seems to be of a good length because I start getting sleepy again right about the time I’m meant to hit the sack for my “second sleep”. I’m not really sure how active to be during the waking period, so I’ve been sticking to low-impact stuff, dim lighting, and no bright screens or technology.

This schedule is probably not for everybody. Some even say that disrupting the REM cycles of sleep interferes with the body’s hormone production, and that being awake during the night leads to high production of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress that may contribute to weight gain. Yes, cortisol is a hormone related to stress—but it’s also the hormone your body produces at certain points in your circadian rhythms to make you feel more awake—it’s like your body’s self-made caffeine. So it would make sense to have higher levels of cortisol when you’re awake. It doesn’t necessarily follow that redistributing, not increasing, your waking hours would produce excess cortisol, but I’m not an expert.

Either way, it’s just two weeks. Wish me luck!

* I love pop music.

** The most recent take on the paleo diet proposed by Dr. Loren Cordain includes a higher proportion of meat (i.e. meat with pretty much every meal) than cavemen likely had available to them.  Turns out real cavemen might have eaten a little differently. I can’t wait for this diet to catch on!

 

 

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