“Hello from intermission,” my friend Ali sent me at 6:37 the other morning. Ali sleeps in shifts, first from midnight until 4:30 or 5 a.m., when she gets up for an hour or two of Wordle and TV, then goes back to bed for a second episode, which ends around 9 a.m. The only problem with this arrangement, according to her, is that sleeping takes longer than if she lost her consecutive hours.
Before the Industrial Revolution, before artificial light and the routinization of the rise and grind, this type of segmented sleep was common, as I learned in this Times article by Danielle Braff. The pandemic, she writes, has allowed those who work from home and therefore have more control over their schedules, like Ali, to embrace two-part sleep. A person with whom Danielle spoke sleeps from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., then from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Another is 2h to 6h and 14h to 18h.
At first, it seemed like Insomnia was hiring a new PR agency. Isn’t waking up in the middle of the night and watching consecutive episodes of “The Golden Girls” until you doze off again unhealthy? Shouldn’t we strive for eight uninterrupted hours of restful sleep? Surely, waking up in the middle of the night should be seen as a hassle, not scheduled as a lunch date.
Experts and veteran insomniacs disagree. In The Times Magazine in 2016, Jesse Barron wrote a letter of recommendation for segmented sleep. He learned to love the hours between siesta segments that the French called dorveille or wakesleep. “Waking up there is different, childish,” he wrote. “Time seems freer. The urge to be busy decreases.
His description sounds a lot like my explanation of why I like to get up early, usually around 4:45 a.m., when it’s still dark and the world hasn’t moved yet and I can walk around in the glow of the candles, the hours entirely mine.
We accept it as normal, even call it virtuous or call it self-care, when people get up early to work, meditate or exercise. Why shouldn’t getting up at night be praised in the same way, or at least normalized?
Of course, many stories of successful segmented sleep begin with ordinary insomnia. I won’t list all the reasons why our sleep may have been disrupted over the past few years – our 3am brains have covered them – but suffice it to say there have been plenty.
Even during waking hours, many of my thoughts and conversations lately turn to the ever-debatable but impossible to definitively answer question of when things will return to normal. I find myself stumbling upon the idea that many parts of life will “come back” to nothing. They will be as they are now, then they will change again.
The way we sleep — whether altered by a new work schedule, doomscrolling, too much blue light, or even optimism about days ahead — may not return to how it was before.
The challenge is therefore to adapt. Those who have adopted segmented sleep as a practice seem to have taken the lemons from insomnia and used them to make a nice steaming pot of chamomile tea. Whether or not I embrace two-stage sleep, this inclination—to know how to live with or even love a change I didn’t choose—is the one I’m inspired to put into practice.
Learn more about sleep:
WEEKENDS ARE FOR…
⛺️ Camping: even in cold weather.
🏙 Celebration: Commemorate Black History Month in Cleveland; Richmond, Virginia; and elsewhere.
🏞 Looking up: Reduce screen time.
THE WEEK IN CULTURE
What you get for $270,000: A Cape Cod cottage in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania; an Italianate house in Buffalo, NY; or a Tudor Revival in Appleton, Wisconsin.
The hunt: He wanted Old World charm in Upper Manhattan. Which house did he choose? Play our game.
Thinking of moving? : More and more people are looking to leave expensive cities for cheaper options like Phoenix or San Antonio.
Reception duties: Help wedding guests by including low cost items on the registers and giving them local Covid tips.
Feel old? It’s not you. It’s the pandemic.
Wildlife observation: Winter is the perfect time to see North America’s largest owls in Minnesota or bison in New Mexico.
Gifts: Bright orange jewelry, chocolates with flavors of Japan and more.
Impress your lover: Making meringues is easier than it looks.
Deeper Connections: These seven exercises can improve your relationship.
What to watch: Love or hate Valentine’s Day, these movies have you covered.
What to listen to: Some hymns take us back to our teenage years, says Anna Martin, the new host of the “Modern Love” podcast.
black love: How a lesbian writer learned from her gay husband to laugh at fate.
Love languages: They are useful for understanding your differences with your partner, writes Lisa Taddeo.
Super Bowl LVI, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Los Angeles Rams: Cincinnati City hasn’t won a professional sports title in over 30 years, and it didn’t look like the Bengals were going to change that anytime soon: just two seasons ago, they were the NFL’s worst team. Then they drafted quarterback Joe Burrow.
He transformed the team with remarkable speed, and with a style and swagger reminiscent of Joe Namath. Even his opponents agree: “If you look up ‘cool’ in the dictionary, there’s a picture of him in some shades of Cartier,” Rams catcher Odell Beckham Jr. said. Sunday, 6:30 p.m. EST, NBC.