The forgotten medieval habit of 'two sleeps'

#1
C C Offline
https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220...asic-sleep

EXCERPTS: . . . But as he read through Jane's criminal deposition, two words seemed to carry an echo of a particularly tantalising detail of life in the 17th Century, which he had never encountered before – "first sleep".

"I can cite the original document almost verbatim," says Ekirch, whose exhilaration at his discovery is palpable even decades later.

In her testimony, Jane describes how just before the men arrived at their home, she and her mother had arisen from their first sleep of the evening. There was no further explanation – the interrupted sleep was just stated matter-of-factly, as if it were entirely unremarkable. "She referred to it as though it was utterly normal," says Ekirch.

A first sleep implies a second sleep – a night divided into two halves. Was this just a familial quirk, or something more?

Over the coming months, Ekirch scoured the archives and found many more references to this mysterious phenomenon of double sleeping, or "biphasic sleep" as he later called it. [...] When Ekirch expanded his search to include online databases of other written records, it soon became clear the phenomenon was more widespread and normalised than he had ever imagined.

For a start, first sleeps are mentioned in one of the most famous works of medieval literature, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and 1400) [...] But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Ekirch found casual references to the system of twice-sleeping in every conceivable form, with hundreds in letters, diaries, medical textbooks, philosophical writings, newspaper articles and plays. The practice even made it into ballads...

Biphasic sleep was not unique to England, either – it was widely practised throughout the preindustrial world. In France, the initial sleep was the "premier somme"; in Italy, it was "primo sonno". In fact, Eckirch found evidence of the habit in locations as distant as Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Australia, South America and the Middle East.

[...] And far from being a peculiarity of the Middle Ages, Ekirch began to suspect that the method had been the dominant way of sleeping for millennia – an ancient default that we inherited from our prehistoric ancestors. The first record Ekirch found was from the 8th Century BC, in the 12,109-line Greek epic The Odyssey, while the last hints of its existence dated to the early 20th Century, before it somehow slipped into oblivion.

How did it work? Why did people do it? And how could something that was once so completely normal, have been forgotten so completely?

In the 17th Century, a night of sleep went something like this.

From as early as 21:00 to 23:00, those fortunate enough to afford them would begin flopping onto mattresses stuffed with straw or rags – alternatively it might have contained feathers, if they were wealthy – ready to sleep for a couple of hours. (At the bottom of the social ladder, people would have to make do with nestling down on a scattering of heather or, worse, a bare earth floor – possibly even without a blanket.)

At the time, most people slept communally, and often found themselves snuggled up with a cosy assortment of bedbugs, fleas, lice, family members, friends, servants and – if they were travelling – total strangers.

To minimise any awkwardness, sleep involved a number of strict social conventions, such as avoiding physical contact or too much fidgeting, and there were designated sleeping positions. For example, female children would typically lie at one side of the bed, with the oldest nearest the wall, followed by the mother and father, then male children – again arranged by age – then non-family members.

A couple of hours later, people would begin rousing from this initial slumber. The night-time wakefulness usually lasted from around 11:00 to about 01:00, depending on what time they went to bed. It was not generally caused by noise or other disturbances in the night – and neither was it initiated by any kind of alarm (these were only invented in 1787, by an American man who – somewhat ironically – needed to wake up on time to sell clocks). Instead, the waking happened entirely naturally, just as it does in the morning.

The period of wakefulness that followed was known as "the watch" – and it was a surprisingly useful window in which to get things done. "[The records] describe how people did just about anything and everything after they awakened from their first sleep," says Ekirch.

Under the weak glow of the Moon, stars, and oil lamps or "rush lights" – a kind of candle for ordinary households, made from the waxed stems of rushes – people would tend to ordinary tasks, such as adding wood to the fire, taking remedies, or going to urinate (often into the fire itself).

[...] According to Ekirch, there are references to the system of sleeping twice peppered throughout the classical era, suggesting that it was already common then. ... Later, the practise was embraced by Christians, who immediately saw the watch's potential as an opportunity for the recital of psalms and confessions. In the Sixth Century AD, Saint Benedict required that monks rise at midnight for these activities, and the idea eventually spread throughout Europe – gradually filtering through to the masses.

But humans aren't the only animals to discover the benefits of dividing up sleep – it's widespread in the natural world, with many species resting in two or even several separate stretches. This helps them to remain active at the most beneficial times of day, such as when they're most likely to find food while avoiding ending up as a snack themselves.

[...] Ekirch had long been harbouring the same hunch. But for decades, there was nothing concrete to prove this – or to illuminate why it might have vanished.

Then back 1995, Ekirch was doing some online reading late one night when he found an article in the New York Times about a sleep experiment from a few years before.

The research was conducted by Thomas Wehr, a sleep scientist from the National Institute of Mental Health, and involved 15 men. After an initial week of observing their normal sleeping patterns, they were deprived of artificial illumination at night to shorten their hours of "daylight" – whether naturally or electrically generated – from the usual 16 hours to just 10. The rest of the time, they were confined to a bedroom with no lights or windows, and fully enveloped in its velvety blackness. They weren't allowed to play music or exercise – and were nudged towards resting and sleeping instead.

At the start of the experiment, the men all had normal nocturnal habits – they slept in one continuous shift that lasted from the late evening until the morning. Then something incredible happened.

After four weeks of the 10-hour days, their sleeping patterns had been transformed – they no longer slept in one stretch, but in two halves roughly the same length. These were punctuated by a one-to-three-hour period in which they were awake. Measurements of the sleep hormone melatonin showed that their circadian rhythms had adjusted too, so their sleep was altered at a biological level.

Wehr had reinvented biphasic sleep. "It [reading about the experiment] was, apart from my wedding and the birth of my children, probably the most exciting moment in my life," says Ekirch. When he emailed Wehr to explain the extraordinary match between his own historical research, and the scientific study, "I think I can tell you that he was every bit as exhilarated as I was," he says.

More recently, Samson's own research has backed up these findings – with an exciting twist. [...see article...]

[...] One major side-effect of much of humanity's shift in sleeping habits has been a change in attitudes. For one thing, we quickly began shaming those who oversleep, and developed a preoccupation with the link between waking up early and being productive.

"But for me, the most gratifying aspect of all this," says Ekert, "relates to those who suffer from middle-of-the-night insomnia." He explains that our sleeping patterns are now so altered, any wakefulness in the middle of the night can lead us to panic. "I don't mean to make light of that – indeed, I suffer from sleep disorders myself, actually. And I take medication for it… " But when people learn that this may have been entirely normal for millennia, he finds that it lessens their anxiety somewhat... (MORE - missing details)
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#2
stryder Offline
(Jan 11, 2022 06:25 PM)C C Wrote: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220...asic-sleep

EXCERPTS: . . . But as he read through Jane's criminal deposition, two words seemed to carry an echo of a particularly tantalising detail of life in the 17th Century, which he had never encountered before – "first sleep".

"I can cite the original document almost verbatim," says Ekirch, whose exhilaration at his discovery is palpable even decades later.

In her testimony, Jane describes how just before the men arrived at their home, she and her mother had arisen from their first sleep of the evening. There was no further explanation – the interrupted sleep was just stated matter-of-factly, as if it were entirely unremarkable. "She referred to it as though it was utterly normal," says Ekirch.

A first sleep implies a second sleep – a night divided into two halves. Was this just a familial quirk, or something more?

Over the coming months, Ekirch scoured the archives and found many more references to this mysterious phenomenon of double sleeping, or "biphasic sleep" as he later called it. [...] When Ekirch expanded his search to include online databases of other written records, it soon became clear the phenomenon was more widespread and normalised than he had ever imagined.

For a start, first sleeps are mentioned in one of the most famous works of medieval literature, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and 1400) [...] But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Ekirch found casual references to the system of twice-sleeping in every conceivable form, with hundreds in letters, diaries, medical textbooks, philosophical writings, newspaper articles and plays. The practice even made it into ballads...

Biphasic sleep was not unique to England, either – it was widely practised throughout the preindustrial world. In France, the initial sleep was the "premier somme"; in Italy, it was "primo sonno". In fact, Eckirch found evidence of the habit in locations as distant as Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Australia, South America and the Middle East.

[...] And far from being a peculiarity of the Middle Ages, Ekirch began to suspect that the method had been the dominant way of sleeping for millennia – an ancient default that we inherited from our prehistoric ancestors. The first record Ekirch found was from the 8th Century BC, in the 12,109-line Greek epic The Odyssey, while the last hints of its existence dated to the early 20th Century, before it somehow slipped into oblivion.

How did it work? Why did people do it? And how could something that was once so completely normal, have been forgotten so completely?

In the 17th Century, a night of sleep went something like this.

From as early as 21:00 to 23:00, those fortunate enough to afford them would begin flopping onto mattresses stuffed with straw or rags – alternatively it might have contained feathers, if they were wealthy – ready to sleep for a couple of hours. (At the bottom of the social ladder, people would have to make do with nestling down on a scattering of heather or, worse, a bare earth floor – possibly even without a blanket.)

At the time, most people slept communally, and often found themselves snuggled up with a cosy assortment of bedbugs, fleas, lice, family members, friends, servants and – if they were travelling – total strangers.

To minimise any awkwardness, sleep involved a number of strict social conventions, such as avoiding physical contact or too much fidgeting, and there were designated sleeping positions. For example, female children would typically lie at one side of the bed, with the oldest nearest the wall, followed by the mother and father, then male children – again arranged by age – then non-family members.

A couple of hours later, people would begin rousing from this initial slumber. The night-time wakefulness usually lasted from around 11:00 to about 01:00, depending on what time they went to bed. It was not generally caused by noise or other disturbances in the night – and neither was it initiated by any kind of alarm (these were only invented in 1787, by an American man who – somewhat ironically – needed to wake up on time to sell clocks). Instead, the waking happened entirely naturally, just as it does in the morning.

The period of wakefulness that followed was known as "the watch" – and it was a surprisingly useful window in which to get things done. "[The records] describe how people did just about anything and everything after they awakened from their first sleep," says Ekirch.

Under the weak glow of the Moon, stars, and oil lamps or "rush lights" – a kind of candle for ordinary households, made from the waxed stems of rushes – people would tend to ordinary tasks, such as adding wood to the fire, taking remedies, or going to urinate (often into the fire itself).

[...] According to Ekirch, there are references to the system of sleeping twice peppered throughout the classical era, suggesting that it was already common then. ... Later, the practise was embraced by Christians, who immediately saw the watch's potential as an opportunity for the recital of psalms and confessions. In the Sixth Century AD, Saint Benedict required that monks rise at midnight for these activities, and the idea eventually spread throughout Europe – gradually filtering through to the masses.       

But humans aren't the only animals to discover the benefits of dividing up sleep – it's widespread in the natural world, with many species resting in two or even several separate stretches. This helps them to remain active at the most beneficial times of day, such as when they're most likely to find food while avoiding ending up as a snack themselves.

[...] Ekirch had long been harbouring the same hunch. But for decades, there was nothing concrete to prove this – or to illuminate why it might have vanished.

Then back 1995, Ekirch was doing some online reading late one night when he found an article in the New York Times about a sleep experiment from a few years before.

The research was conducted by Thomas Wehr, a sleep scientist from the National Institute of Mental Health, and involved 15 men. After an initial week of observing their normal sleeping patterns, they were deprived of artificial illumination at night to shorten their hours of "daylight" – whether naturally or electrically generated – from the usual 16 hours to just 10. The rest of the time, they were confined to a bedroom with no lights or windows, and fully enveloped in its velvety blackness. They weren't allowed to play music or exercise – and were nudged towards resting and sleeping instead.

At the start of the experiment, the men all had normal nocturnal habits – they slept in one continuous shift that lasted from the late evening until the morning. Then something incredible happened.

After four weeks of the 10-hour days, their sleeping patterns had been transformed – they no longer slept in one stretch, but in two halves roughly the same length. These were punctuated by a one-to-three-hour period in which they were awake. Measurements of the sleep hormone melatonin showed that their circadian rhythms had adjusted too, so their sleep was altered at a biological level.

Wehr had reinvented biphasic sleep. "It [reading about the experiment] was, apart from my wedding and the birth of my children, probably the most exciting moment in my life," says Ekirch. When he emailed Wehr to explain the extraordinary match between his own historical research, and the scientific study, "I think I can tell you that he was every bit as exhilarated as I was," he says.

More recently, Samson's own research has backed up these findings – with an exciting twist. [...see article...]

[...] One major side-effect of much of humanity's shift in sleeping habits has been a change in attitudes. For one thing, we quickly began shaming those who oversleep, and developed a preoccupation with the link between waking up early and being productive.

"But for me, the most gratifying aspect of all this," says Ekert, "relates to those who suffer from middle-of-the-night insomnia." He explains that our sleeping patterns are now so altered, any wakefulness in the middle of the night can lead us to panic. "I don't mean to make light of that – indeed, I suffer from sleep disorders myself, actually. And I take medication for it… " But when people learn that this may have been entirely normal for millennia, he finds that it lessens their anxiety somewhat... (MORE - missing details)

Looking at history, theres a number of reasons for splitting sleep that aren't just down to chance. For instance, if you have an open fire, it can be a concern that if it's not kept an eye on it could spread, or if it isn't kept an eye on it could go out making it difficult to restart in the morning. There is also the point that if you have livestock, you could have a concern that they might wander in the night, or be attacked. Furthermore there is then the question of how unruly it is at night, since the shadows are used by those doing illicit things to hide, so keeping an eye on things would likely stoke the flight-fight responses and make it very difficult to have a deep sleep.

On top of that, times were turbulant, there were a number of large scale revolts and riots. Towns and cities often were taken control of, so there was always the concern of a violent armed insurrection being present and the concern wouldn't just be those that revolted or rebelled but when those places were taken back anyone considered apart of it would likely be dragged from their slumber.
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#3
confused2 Online
People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf. (Orwell?)
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