Two books have recently been published that speak to the challenge of achieving a good night of sleep. One of the books is a novel and the other is non-fiction. The novel is Colson Whitehead’s best selling work of fiction called Harlem Shuffle (Whitehead, 2021) The nonfiction book by James Nestor is titled Breath. These two books could not be more divergent in terms of tone and purpose—yet both point to important aspects of sleep. Specifically, Whitehead introduces the concept of Dorveille Sleep, while Nestor writes about nasal breathing and its benefits (as compared with mouth breathing).
Let me remove the temporary mystery concerning how each of the concepts relates to a third entity that seems far removed from either the streets of Harlem or the way in which we breathe: this is Quality of Sleep. I turn first to Harlem and Dorveille Sleep.
Dorveille Sleep: A Night of Sleep in Broken Segments
In earlier essays I have challenged the traditional notion that the best night of sleep is one which is never interrupted. We are expected to drop off into slumberland at some point in the early evening and wake up refreshed and ready for a new day at some point after the sun rises. We all know that this is the “right” outcome of sleep—or is it? I offer several caveats.
First, the uninterrupted night of sleep is usually illusive. Only as a child or young adolescent do we achieve this outcome. Given the probability that we will wake up and even get up at least once during the night as an adult, then we might ask if this is just our personal flaw or if there is a good, “natural” reason for interrupted sleep. Does it perhaps achieve some evolutionary purpose?
Second, the failure to achieve an uninterrupted night of sleep might be reframed as an opportunity—and perhaps even an achievement. Something of value might come out of the interruption and what we do with this interruption. I have previously suggested that the bridge between two episodes of sleep can be filled with enjoyable and even productive activities. I have also suggested that a second or third segment of sleep at night can look quite different from the first segment. We can change the way in which we are sleeping half way through the night!
It seems that I am not alone. Colson Whitehead introduces (or actually re-introduces) us to an old notion about sleep. It is called Dorveille Sleep—and is based on some research findings (and speculations such as I have made) that humans (and perhaps many other animals) are not only accustomed to sleeping in two or more “shifts” (sleep segments), but also benefit from this multi-segment sleep.