How does bimodal/segmented sleep feel?

by 2316 · November 24, 2010 at 07:34 PM

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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1204 · 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.


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]


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.

1724 · August 25, 2010 at 09:47 AM

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

9551 · August 26, 2010 at 06:05 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.

2357 · August 25, 2010 at 01:09 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.

1435 · August 25, 2010 at 09:28 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.

20469 · August 26, 2010 at 04:44 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.

1510 · November 24, 2010 at 07:34 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.

370 · August 31, 2010 at 06:04 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.

960 · August 31, 2010 at 03:50 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.

10170 · August 26, 2010 at 01:29 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

570 · August 25, 2010 at 09:01 PM

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

2088 · 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.

1267 · 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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