Conventional wisdom tells us that we should get at least eight hours of sleep a night, but a recent report by the BBC suggests that this might just be a myth.

Historian Roger Ekirch believes that in the past, it was normal to get two sleep sessions, one early evening, a break, and then a second later at night.

The report cites historical evidence that seems to prove this pattern; neighbors visited between sleeps and doctors advised that conception of a child is best between sleep sessions.

Learn more about the report in the video above.

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In order to better understand what sleep does for your body and brain, here's a look at what's happening as you transition from going about your day to hitting the hay.
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You spend the day awake, alert and burning your body's fuel. Lots of the brain's centers are firing at once to make sense of the visual, auditory and other stimulants happening all around you, says Dr. Epstein. If you were to map out the brain's activity, you'd see "chaotic, small waves" he says. "You can think of it as 'awake brain, awake body.'"

But the body is preparing for sleep long before your head actually hits the pillow, explains Twery. The darker light of evening triggers sleep hormone melatonin to rise, and the body's temperature drops slightly. "These are all signals to the body to promote sleepiness and the transition to sleep," he says.

Flickr photo by D'Arcy Norman