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What’s Segmented Sleep, and Can It Help You?

Getting a good night’s sleep has long been considered a matter of logging in at least 7 or 8 hours a night. But recently, it seems that increasingly more people are turning to something known as “segmented sleep.”  Whether out of necessity, part of a health and wellness plan, or beliefs that it can improve productivity, some are using this sleep technique as an alternative to  the classic 8. What is segmented sleep, though… and is it even good for you?

Let’s take a look at what medical professionals and other experts say about the claimed benefits of this new sleep trend.

The Origin of Segmented Sleep

Segmented sleep claims its origins in the sleep patterns of our most ancient ancestors. Early humans, after all, didn’t live in the conditions we live today; in fact, they more often than not were on the go or on the alert (and we’re not talking about errands, back-to-back meetings, or soccer practice – more like running from larger predators and looking for new food sources.). As a result, they often slept in segments of 2 to 3 hours when they could throughout the day instead of sleeping in a single longer period.

There is evidence of these segmented sleep patterns in historical writings of more recent eras, too, including in ‘The Canterbury Tales’. A recent study run at NIH even claimed that people fall naturally into a segmented sleep pattern when deprived of the light stimulation caused by modern life.

Does Segmented Sleep Benefit You?

Due to its prevalence in human history, proponents of segmented sleep claim that it is a natural sleep pattern for humans, with some even claiming that we were actually intended to sleep this way.

One of the main benefits claimed by segmented sleep advocates is that it provides a more flexible schedule. Additional claims include increased productivity and enhanced calm during the day due to meditative thinking done while awake at night.

While it can certainly help someone manage a busy schedule (parents of small children might relate)… the benefits of a segmented sleep schedule are still unproven and, in fact, fly in the face of what many medical experts have to say.

What Medical Experts Say About Segmented Sleep

Despite the claimed benefits of segmented sleep, there still seems to be consensus among general medical experts that 8 hours a night is best. A full 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep allows the brain to go through all necessary sleep cycles, including REM and deep sleep.

When the brain is deprived of these cycles, it can be detrimental to the health of the brain and the body. Missing out on full sleep cycles can cause cortisol levels to rise, leading to feelings of stress and anxiety, while also limiting the release of hormones that help the body restore damage done from the wear and tear of the day.

Depriving yourself of sleep can even raise hormones that cause you to retain fat and eat more, while also affecting your memory.

The Conclusion— Stick with 8 Hours

Given the number of health risks involved in missing out on deep sleep cycles, the majority of medical experts advise sticking with the classic 8-hour routine, especially for kids. If you do want to explore the potential benefits of segmented sleep, especially if your schedule necessitates it, mix it in with full nights of sleep to ensure your body gets what it needs.

While the segmented sleep myth may retain some adherents, at the end of the day it seems the classic “8 hours a night” approach might still be the best option for you.