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Sleep like a Victorian to combat insomnia and sleepiness

Interrupted sleep? Kept awake for hours? Here's how you can use it to your advantage...

For many people, it's not falling to sleep that we find difficult when our head hits the pillow at night – most of us can calm our whirring minds and leave anxious thoughts behind in favour of drifting off. Instead, we experience interrupted sleep, waking up in the middle of the night and struggling to fall asleep again. Sound familiar? You might be sleeping like a Victorian.


Before the advent of electric lights and standardised working hours, we lived a very different lifestyle – and functioned according to a different body clock. Workers woke up with the sunrise and wound down after sunset – after all, there's not much you can really do by candlelight. According to research in 2016, however, interrupted sleep was also a very common feature.

Today, waking up in the middle of the night (to the point that it interferes with your quality of sleep) is a form of insomnia. For many of us, it's an unfortunate symptom that comes with age: our sleep is lighter, and so we wake up more easily. Other times, it's simply because we need to visit the toilet. Whatever the reason, one of the most common suggestions from doctors, experts and search engines is to fill the time with an activity – whether it's reading, completing a chore or simply walking around the house. This way, you're distracting yourself from the frustration that comes from not being able to sleep.

In Victorian life, any waking hour during the night was put to use. People would go to bed when it got dark, sleep for five hours, then rise for an hour to do household chores, visit friends, or enjoy some time with their partner, before heading back to bed for their 'second sleep'. It was a logical pattern: heading to bed with the sunset meant that many would be sleeping from as early as 7pm, so a long sleep would likely be interrupted.


After the advent of electricity and lighting, and with the industrial age and the rise of standard working hours, it became easier to keep awake after dark, and sleeping through the night became the new norm. However, experts reason that the old way of sleeping is perhaps more natural – and better for you. 'Biphasic' sleeping – sleeping in two chunks – is said to aid the body's repair process, help sort and consolidate memories, and process the events of the previous day.

With the research suggesting that a return to the old way of sleeping is the best way to go, it might be time to make the most of your interrupted sleep. Rather than fight it, embrace it: keep a good book by your bedside, or head downstairs for a glass of milk and a browse of your favourite magazine. We'd still recommend avoiding screens - the blue light they emit will decrease the quality of your sleep – but everything else is up to you. Whether you choose to complete a chore or relax with a novel, it'll be a productive hour – and it might just be good for your health, too.


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