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How does bimodal/segmented sleep feel?

by (2377)
Updated September 16, 2014 at 7:14 PM
Created August 25, 2010 at 9:14 AM

For about 6-8 weeks now, I wake up every night around 3am - including lying awake for up to two hours. And it bothers me not only because it sometimes means getting up and going to the toilet but also because it just does not feel as recreative as a "night full of sleep".

Background: I've been on a rather "strict" paleo diet for years now, enjoying the occasional cheese, reduced stress. I sleep in a pitch-black room, go to bed when it gets dark, no excessive exposure to light in the evening. I fall asleep quite easy which I attribute to the paleo diet because previously the opposite was the case.

After doing some research I found a few references similar to this http://paleohacks.com/questions/2509/anyone-getting-less-sleep-on-a-paleo-diet

The time around 3am, as much as it bothers me, is quite an experience ranging from dreaming while being awake/aware of it being a dream. It's kind of like watching a movie or watching myself having a dream. Hard to describe.

Some of you who have experience with this: How does it feel for you, how can I prevent waking up? Or, as a workaround, how can I avoid having to go to the toilet in the middle of the night while still drinking enough water?

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2377 · November 26, 2010 at 2:14 PM

As for me, I always had the feeling that my pillow has a profound impact on my sleep quality. And I was right again. Seems like my pillow was just broken, I'd been using it for years because of its unique properites. Now I got a new one (actually a used one from my girlfriend that has the perfect degree of firm- and softness) and have a great sleep each night. Feeling of rest is also better than before. @Tserb: that's what I started thinking about too. The moon is very bright...

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383 · November 25, 2010 at 4:43 AM

I really can't buy into the 'pitch-black' room theory. It looks like there needs to be some light (I think of moon etc.) I doubt we have slept in pitch-black caves but had rather a warming fire next to us, meaning light and warmth and a certain background noise.

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2369 · October 26, 2010 at 8:35 PM

By quitting low carb I simply mean eating more carbs and not trying to maintain ketosis all of the time, which as I understand it can take its toll on the adrenals/thyroid.

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1510 · October 08, 2010 at 12:27 PM

Quitting low carb? Does that eating carbs again or giving up even low carb foods? And how can people not believe in adrenal burnout if there are actual lab tests that can show it? I had some pretty extreme adrenal fatigue, just shy of Addison's, and I found that taking a break from exercising and giving up all sources of sugar were incredibly helpful.

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2369 · September 02, 2010 at 6:57 PM

Things that can help treat it include: meditation, cutting out alcohol and caffeine, taking a break from exercising, quitting low-carb, taking various supplements recommended for adrenal fatigue (lots of info can be found if you google "adrenal fatigue" or "adrenal exhaustion".

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960 · September 01, 2010 at 3:17 PM

Felix--I know the exact phenomenon you're talking about. I find that I can only really identify how stressful a period of my life was once it's over. "I can't BELIEVE I thought I was happy then!" is a recurrent theme in my life. I am a firm believer in the power of subconscious emotional stress. And as much of a believer I am in the power of positive thinking, too, I think that the subconscious mind has a much greater control on our emotions than we'd like to believe. Good luck with your tough times. Breathe deep and sleep as well as possible! I feel for you, I really do.

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2377 · September 01, 2010 at 6:39 AM

To be honest, as much as I keep stress down, it probably is emotional stress I am not actively aware of. I keep telling myself everything is fine (positive thinking) when it really is not. I guess I'll just have to be patient and wait until these times are over.

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2377 · August 27, 2010 at 6:17 AM

I know - but come on, blueberries are the most awesome fruit on earth. There is an organic plantation right around the corner, you can pick them yourself there: blueberry-heaven.

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9647 · August 26, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Holy cow. Two pounds of blueberries? I'm impressed. I think I would explode.

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78417 · August 26, 2010 at 11:32 AM

How did u treat it?

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2377 · August 26, 2010 at 8:39 AM

It might be food, actually: I'm fully indulging in the blueberry-season with ~2 pounds of blueberries every day. The timing seems to be right. Season ends this weekend so I'll know next week.

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2377 · August 26, 2010 at 8:37 AM

Great source, thanks Ambimorph.

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2604 · August 26, 2010 at 7:28 AM

Read about this many times before. Doesn't feel very paleo to me though. I recall Pavlina doing this years ago. It may work but seems useless to me. I don't want to be awake at weird times of the night when everyone else is sleeping, and also couldn't disappear every few hours for a nap. Don't think my colleagues at work would understand!

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9647 · August 26, 2010 at 6:35 AM

Also check out this link: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/sleep-disorders/content/article/10168/56881 It's more or less the same as the one given in another previous paleohacks question: http://paleohacks.com/questions/951/pre-industrial-sleep-patterns I highly recommend it.

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18671 · August 25, 2010 at 4:00 PM

I've dabbled in polyphasic sleep schedules. If I didn't have an unpredictable infant right now, I'd probably being using an Everyman schedule as we speak. I consider Puredoxyk to be the expert. See http://www.puredoxyk.com/index.php/polyphasic-sleep-portal/ It's exciting stuff.

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2377 · August 25, 2010 at 3:26 PM

I already ruled out relations to food - well, at least I think so. from no-dairy to no-food in the evening, nothing worked. (Only made things worse because then I'll be hungry at 3am...)

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2377 · August 25, 2010 at 3:20 PM

*sigh* Well, i'll have to do it, then. It's been lying around here for months, just couldn't find the time. I guess I'll read it at 3am... thanks!

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1215 · August 25, 2010 at 11:21 AM

And another quote from the Wikipedia article: "The modern assumption that consolidated sleep with no awakenings is the normal and correct way for human adults to sleep leads many to approach their doctors with complaints of maintenance insomnia or other sleep disorders. Their concerns might best be addressed by assurance that their sleep conforms to historically natural sleep patterns.[7]"

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1215 · August 25, 2010 at 11:20 AM

I just happened to be reading about this a few days ago. Because I've experienced it a few times as well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segmented_sleep

Segmented sleep, divided sleep, bimodal sleep pattern and interrupted sleep are modern Western terms for a polyphasic or biphasic sleep pattern found in medieval and early modern Europe and many non-industrialised societies today, where the night's sleep is divided by one or more periods of wakefulness. This is particularly common in the winter.[1]

and

The modern assumption that consolidated sleep with no awakenings is the normal and correct way for human adults to sleep leads many to approach their doctors with complaints of maintenance insomnia or other sleep disorders. Their concerns might best be addressed by assurance that their sleep conforms to historically natural sleep patterns.[7]

It turns out that this is actually quite natural.

My advice is to embrace it. Make sure you go to bed on time and when you wake up do something that isn't too taxing on the brain or body until you're sleepy again.

I grab my guitar and do a little strumming for 30 - 45 minutes.

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2377 · August 26, 2010 at 8:37 AM

Great source, thanks Ambimorph.

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18671 · August 25, 2010 at 4:00 PM

I've dabbled in polyphasic sleep schedules. If I didn't have an unpredictable infant right now, I'd probably being using an Everyman schedule as we speak. I consider Puredoxyk to be the expert. See http://www.puredoxyk.com/index.php/polyphasic-sleep-portal/ It's exciting stuff.

154bf5c84f7bd9f52b361b45d05dbc3a
1215 · August 25, 2010 at 11:21 AM

And another quote from the Wikipedia article: "The modern assumption that consolidated sleep with no awakenings is the normal and correct way for human adults to sleep leads many to approach their doctors with complaints of maintenance insomnia or other sleep disorders. Their concerns might best be addressed by assurance that their sleep conforms to historically natural sleep patterns.[7]"

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1710 · August 25, 2010 at 9:47 AM

You don't have kids. Obviously. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Sleeping through the night. What a concept.

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9647 · August 26, 2010 at 6:05 AM

Hi, Felix, as you can see you're not alone, and I am more company for you. My pattern is closest to Eva's: takes me anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to go back to sleep, and I just go ahead and go to the bathroom.

I was going to suggest that you not eat before sleeping because I find that I have to urinate more when I eat more (maybe because I drink more when I eat more)--and I've had some of my longest uninterrupted periods of sleep (we're talking 8.5 or 9 hours) while fasting (no food at least 9 hours before going to bed). But in one of your comments you said you tried this and it didn't work. And anyhow who wants to not eat for 9 hours every day before bed?

The only thing I would say then is go with Neill's answer on this thread and Luisa's answer on the thread you cited: just roll with it! Budget an extra hour for sleep, wake up when you wake up, and try to read, or play the guitar like Neill.

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2377 · August 27, 2010 at 6:17 AM

I know - but come on, blueberries are the most awesome fruit on earth. There is an organic plantation right around the corner, you can pick them yourself there: blueberry-heaven.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4
9647 · August 26, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Holy cow. Two pounds of blueberries? I'm impressed. I think I would explode.

3eb3f79868b24b3df4450ea2d4f9a5d5
2377 · August 26, 2010 at 8:39 AM

It might be food, actually: I'm fully indulging in the blueberry-season with ~2 pounds of blueberries every day. The timing seems to be right. Season ends this weekend so I'll know next week.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4
9647 · August 26, 2010 at 6:35 AM

Also check out this link: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/sleep-disorders/content/article/10168/56881 It's more or less the same as the one given in another previous paleohacks question: http://paleohacks.com/questions/951/pre-industrial-sleep-patterns I highly recommend it.

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2369 · August 25, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Waking at around 3am for several hours in the middle of the night is something I am very familiar with.

Some believe this is caused by adrenal burnout. If your diurnal cortisol rhythm is out of wack (from over-stressing adrenals with caffeine, alcohol, low carb, fasting, over-exercising, emotional stress, etc.) your body will pump out adrenaline in the middle of the night to compensate, thus waking you up at the wrong time.

Not everyone believes in adrenal burnout, but I found that treating it significantly improved this chronic, debilitating sleep problem for me.

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2369 · October 26, 2010 at 8:35 PM

By quitting low carb I simply mean eating more carbs and not trying to maintain ketosis all of the time, which as I understand it can take its toll on the adrenals/thyroid.

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1510 · October 08, 2010 at 12:27 PM

Quitting low carb? Does that eating carbs again or giving up even low carb foods? And how can people not believe in adrenal burnout if there are actual lab tests that can show it? I had some pretty extreme adrenal fatigue, just shy of Addison's, and I found that taking a break from exercising and giving up all sources of sugar were incredibly helpful.

E91fd339d760ed76cc72570a679ebf5a
2369 · September 02, 2010 at 6:57 PM

Things that can help treat it include: meditation, cutting out alcohol and caffeine, taking a break from exercising, quitting low-carb, taking various supplements recommended for adrenal fatigue (lots of info can be found if you google "adrenal fatigue" or "adrenal exhaustion".

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78417 · August 26, 2010 at 11:32 AM

How did u treat it?

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1485 · August 25, 2010 at 9:28 PM

I've read that hunter-gather societies tend to have segmented sleep periods. The book "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes" is about one of the most "primitive" tribes in the Amazon, and in it they go through repeated periods of sleeping and talkative wakefulness through the night. It drove the American author (a missionary turned linguist) nuts for years.

I also recall there is a passage in Homer that talks of the period in the middle of the night when men lie awake, and I've heard it referenced that in ancient times during seasons when nights were long, sleep was broken into two periods, with a wakeful period in the middle, and this was what he was referring to.

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20787 · August 26, 2010 at 4:44 AM

Yeah, bimodal sleep, it's really rather irritating if you ask me. There is not much to do in the middle of the night and I usually don't feel totally chipper even though I am awake. Seems like I have been falling into a bimodal sleep pattern for many years now. Some nights I have it and some I don't. It takes between 30 minutes and an hour and a half for to get back to sleep. Although since I went on paleo, I rarely need to pee at night anymore. HOwever, sometimes when I wake in the middle of the night, I will do that anyway just because there is nothing better to do and it will sometimes make me more relaxed in the morning by which time I may have to pee if I haven't done it already. So far, I can't really find a pattern for why I get it some nights and not others. If I could find a pattern, that might be a clue as to why it happens and how to avoid it. But so far, no clue.

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1510 · November 24, 2010 at 7:34 PM

I'm hoping to re-open this thread and see if anyone has any new feedback. Since making my bedroom at home nearly pitch-dark, I notice that I've gone into a bimodal sleep patten. I usually wake up twice and always with a full bladder, once at around 3 and once at around 6. Getting up is never easy, but once I take in some light, I snap awake fairly quickly. However, while visiting family for Thanksgiving and staying in a room where lots of light streams in, I return to a "night full of sleep" pattern, where I sleep straight through, though I haven't changed my water consumption.

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2377 · November 26, 2010 at 2:14 PM

As for me, I always had the feeling that my pillow has a profound impact on my sleep quality. And I was right again. Seems like my pillow was just broken, I'd been using it for years because of its unique properites. Now I got a new one (actually a used one from my girlfriend that has the perfect degree of firm- and softness) and have a great sleep each night. Feeling of rest is also better than before. @Tserb: that's what I started thinking about too. The moon is very bright...

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383 · November 25, 2010 at 4:43 AM

I really can't buy into the 'pitch-black' room theory. It looks like there needs to be some light (I think of moon etc.) I doubt we have slept in pitch-black caves but had rather a warming fire next to us, meaning light and warmth and a certain background noise.

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370 · August 31, 2010 at 6:04 PM

I have been sleeping this way for about 15 years. Like a clock, I sleep about four hours then awaken for some time, could be 1/2 hour or could be as much as 3 hours. Then I go back to sleep again for a few more hours so overall, I get about 5-7 hours total.

That said, it's not ideal, at least for me. On the very extremely rare nights when I sleep all the way through the night, I wake up in the morning with a delicious feeling of being completely refreshed. I do not have this feeling normally in the mornings. I am always more or less some degree of being tired. So I know that at least for me, bimodal sleeping is not ideal. No matter what my hunter gatherer ancestors did.

Regular meditation is the only thing I have investigated that has had any effect of decreasing my nighttime awakenings. Right now I am doing a behavior-cognitive modification program to address this as I would really, really, love to be able to sleep all the way through the night again.

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960 · August 31, 2010 at 3:50 PM

I also don't have much to add, except to second the post about adrenal burnout. So much of Paleo is about food, but so much of it is about lifestyle, too. When I am emotionally stressed--unfortunately all too often--I not only have trouble falling asleep, but also wake around 4am and cannot get back to sleep. This happens anywhere from 1 day to 1 week or many months at a time.

Cortisol and adrenaline are responsible for wakefulness. With properly synched biological clocks, we get a 'shot' of cortisol a number of times throughout the day to keep us going (hence the idea of a 'second wind.') Typically the hours of 3-5 am are our lowest cortisol levels, but when stressed, or experiencing adrenal burnout, these fluctuations can be thrown out of whack.

I'm sure lots of other things cause people to wake in the middle of the night, but I'm pretty sure this is it for me.

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960 · September 01, 2010 at 3:17 PM

Felix--I know the exact phenomenon you're talking about. I find that I can only really identify how stressful a period of my life was once it's over. "I can't BELIEVE I thought I was happy then!" is a recurrent theme in my life. I am a firm believer in the power of subconscious emotional stress. And as much of a believer I am in the power of positive thinking, too, I think that the subconscious mind has a much greater control on our emotions than we'd like to believe. Good luck with your tough times. Breathe deep and sleep as well as possible! I feel for you, I really do.

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2377 · September 01, 2010 at 6:39 AM

To be honest, as much as I keep stress down, it probably is emotional stress I am not actively aware of. I keep telling myself everything is fine (positive thinking) when it really is not. I guess I'll just have to be patient and wait until these times are over.

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10294 · August 26, 2010 at 1:29 PM

A lot of great suggestions in all the answers. Nothing to add, except this interesting paper on the ecology of human sleep, in case you haven't read it:

Toward a Comparative Developmental Ecology of Human Sleep

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571 · August 25, 2010 at 9:01 PM

check out Polyphasic Sleep. i recently stumbled upon this fantastic Blogpost. It says you basically need only 2 hours sleep a day!

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2604 · August 26, 2010 at 7:28 AM

Read about this many times before. Doesn't feel very paleo to me though. I recall Pavlina doing this years ago. It may work but seems useless to me. I don't want to be awake at weird times of the night when everyone else is sleeping, and also couldn't disappear every few hours for a nap. Don't think my colleagues at work would understand!

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2119 · August 25, 2010 at 12:19 PM

There's some very interesting stuff about this in T.S. Wiley's "Light's Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival".

If you haven't read that, you should read it - it's excellent.

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2377 · August 25, 2010 at 3:20 PM

*sigh* Well, i'll have to do it, then. It's been lying around here for months, just couldn't find the time. I guess I'll read it at 3am... thanks!

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1288 · August 25, 2010 at 11:15 AM

Have you considered that you might be having a hypo over night? If I had had cream or dairy at night time i often wake up at two or three o'clock with exactly the symptoms which make me think that I am having a hypo. I'm still trying to understand what's happening but when I dont eat in the evening I don't seem to have a problem with waking up and I have to wonder if the Dairy or even coconut oil is making me have an insulin surge and causing me to have a hypo a few hours later???

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2377 · August 25, 2010 at 3:26 PM

I already ruled out relations to food - well, at least I think so. from no-dairy to no-food in the evening, nothing worked. (Only made things worse because then I'll be hungry at 3am...)

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