Getting enough sleep is a crucial part of your overall health and well-being. It can help you regulate your weight, keeps stress in check, sharpens both your memory and mind, and can improve your mood. No question about it — sleep is good for you, and most experts recommend you get at least eight uninterrupted hours per night.

Weirdly enough though, the way we sleep has changed drastically in the past two hundred years. In fact, our ancestors didn’t sleep through the night at all. Some scholars think they instead slept in two distinct shifts. Science of Us points to historian Roger Ekirch who says that patterns from people in early modern Europe and North America that show that humans slept in a “dead” and “morning” shift. This pattern is consistent with communities from many other cultures, including Brazil, Nigeria, and parts of Central America, leading Ekirch to believe that this might have been a universal model of sleep.

What changed? As with everything, it was technology. When artificial lighting became widely available, people began realizing that tasks they had previously been unable to do in the dark were suddenly doable. Consequently, they began shifting their bedtimes later and later. As they did that, the space between the two sleep shifts shrank. Soon enough, it was just easier to sleep in one long shift through the night.

Not all experts agree with Ekirch’s assessment, but if you do subscribe to Ekirch’s school of thought, then take heart the next time you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep. Perhaps you’re just more in touch with your natural rhythms than everyone else.

.: Men’s Health

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