Allie Sullberg

Purposeful disruptions

“Hello from the intermission,” my friend Ali texted me at 6:37 the other morning. Ali is sleeping in shifts, first midnight until 4:30 or 5 a.m., when she rises for an hour or two of Wordle and TV, then back to bed for a second installment, which concludes sometime around 9. The only problem with this arrangement, as she sees it, is that sleeping takes longer than it would if she knocked out her hours consecutively.

Before the Industrial Revolution, before artificial light and the routinization of “rise and grind,” segmented sleep of this sort was common, as I learned from this Times story by Danielle Braff. The pandemic, she writes, has permitted those who are working from home and thus have more control over their schedules, like Ali, to embrace two-part sleeping. One person Danielle spoke with sleeps from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., then from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Another does 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

At first, this sounded to me as if insomnia hired a new PR agency. Isn’t waking up in the middle of the night and watching back-to-back episodes of “The Golden Girls” until you’re drowsy again unhealthy? Shouldn’t we strive for eight uninterrupted hours of blissful slumber? Surely waking up in the middle of the night should be worried over as a problem, not scheduled like a lunch date.

Experts and former insomnia sufferers beg to differ. In The Times Magazine in 2016, Jesse Barron wrote a letter of recommendation for segmented sleep. He learned to love the hours between snooze segments that the French called dorveille, or wakesleep. “Waking into them is different, childlike,” he wrote. “The time feels freer. The urge to be busy abates.”

His description sounds a lot like my explanation for why I love to get up early, usually around 4:45 a.m., when it’s still dark and the world hasn’t stirred yet and I can putter around by candlelight, the hours wholly my own.

We accept it as normal, even call it virtuous or label it self-care, when people get up early to work or meditate or exercise. Why shouldn’t getting up in the night be similarly lauded, or at least normalized?

Of course, many tales of successful segmented sleep begin with garden-variety insomnia. I won’t reel off all the reasons our sleep might have been disrupted in the past few years — our 3 a.m. brains have that covered — but suffice it to say there have been plenty.

Even during waking hours, many of my thoughts and conversations lately turn on the endlessly discussable but impossible-to-definitively-answer question of when things will get back to normal. I find myself landing on the notion that many parts of life won’t “get back” to anything. They’ll be the way they are now, then they’ll change again.

How we sleep — whether altered by a new work schedule, by doomscrolling, by too much blue light or even by optimism about the days ahead — may not revert to how it was before.

The challenge, then, is to adapt. Those who have taken up segmented sleeping as a practice seem to have taken the lemons of insomnia and used them to make a nice, steaming pot of chamomile tea. Whether or not I ever adopt two-phase sleeping, that inclination — to figure out how to live with or even love a change I didn’t choose — is one I’m inspired to put into practice.

More on sleep:



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Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti, Ashley Wu and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at