Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You | Slumberwise

Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You

Author: |

Posted in Science, Trivia

Your ancestors didn't sleep like you
Ok, maybe your grandparents probably slept like you. And your great, great-grandparents. But once you go back before the 1800s, sleep starts to look a lot different. Your ancestors slept in a way that modern sleepers would find bizarre – they slept twice. And so can you.

The History

The existence of our sleeping twice per night was first uncovered by Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech.

His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.

References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.

“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

An English doctor wrote, for example, that the ideal time for study and contemplation was between “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Chaucer tells of a character in the Canterbury Tales that goes to bed following her “firste sleep.” And, explaining the reason why working class conceived more children, a doctor from the 1500s reported that they typically had sex after their first sleep.

Ekirch’s book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past is replete with such examples.

But just what did people do with these extra twilight hours? Pretty much what you might expect.

Most stayed in their beds and bedrooms, sometimes reading, and often they would use the time to pray. Religious manuals included special prayers to be said in the mid-sleep hours.

Others might smoke, talk with co-sleepers, or have sex. Some were more active and would leave to visit with neighbours.

As we know, this practice eventually died out. Ekirch attributes the change to the advent of street lighting and eventually electric indoor light, as well as the popularity of coffee houses. Author Craig Koslofsky offers a further theory in his book Evening’s Empire. With the rise of more street lighting, night stopped being the domain of criminals and sub-classes and became a time for work or socializing. Two sleeps were eventually considered a wasteful way to spend these hours.

No matter why the change happened, shortly after the turn of the 20th century the concept of two sleeps had vanished from common knowledge.

Until about 1990.

The Science

Two sleeps per night may have been the method of antiquity, but tendencies towards it still linger in modern man. There could be an innate biological preference for two sleeps, given the right circumstances.

In the early ‘90s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr of National Institutes of Mental Health conducted a study on photoperiodicity (exposure to light), and its effect on sleep patterns.

In his study, fifteen men spent four weeks with their daylight artificially restricted. Rather than staying up and active the usual sixteen hours per day, they would stay up only ten. The other fourteen hours they would be in a closed, dark room, where they would rest or sleep as much as possible. This mimics the days in mid-winter, with short daylight and long nights.

At first, the participants would sleep huge stretches of time, likely making up for sleep debt that’s common among modern people. Once they had caught up on their sleep though, a strange thing started to happen.

They began to have two sleeps.

Over a twelve hour period, the participants would typically sleep for about four
or five hours initially, then wake for several hours, then sleep again until morning. They slept not more than eight hours total.

The middle hours of the night, between two sleeps, was characterized by unusual calmness, likened to meditation. This was not the middle-of-the-night toss-and-turn that many of us experienced. The individuals did not stress about falling back asleep, but used the time to relax.

Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford, points out that even with standard sleep patterns, this night waking isn’t always cause for concern. “Many people wake up at night and panic,” he says. “I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.”

Outside of a scientific setting, this kind of sleep pattern is still attainable, but it does require changing our modern, electric lifestyle. Very cool person J. D. Moyer did just that. He and his family intentionally went an entire month with no electric light.

In the winter months, this meant a lot of darkness and a lot of sleep. Moyer writes “…I would go to bed really early, like 8:30, and then get up around 2:30am.  This was alarming at first, but then I remembered that this sleep pattern was quite common in pre-electric light days.  When this happened I would end up reading or writing by candlelight for an hour or two, then going back to bed.”

Moyer didn’t set out to reproduce our ancestors sleep pattern, it just happened as a byproduct of a lot of dark hours.

Should We Revive Two Sleeps?

Although history shows that two sleeping was common, and science indicates that it is (in some conditions) natural, there is no indication that it is better. Two sleeps may leave you feeling more rested, but this could simply be because you are intentionally giving yourself more time to rest, relax, and sleep. Giving the same respect to the single, eight-hour sleep should be just as effective.

Note too that two sleeping needs a lot of darkness – darkness that is only possible naturally during the winter months. The greater levels of daylight during summer and other seasons would make two sleeping difficult, or even impossible.

Perhaps two sleeping is merely a coping mechanm to get through the long, cold, boring nights of the winter. Today, we don’t need to cope. So long as we give our sleep the time and respect it needs, getting the “standard” eight hours of sleep should be fine.

But next time you wake up at 2 AM and can’t sleep, just remember your great, great, great, great, great grandfather. He did the same thing every night.

Update

Well this article proved exceedingly popular! Thank you to everyone who visited, or took the time to leave a comment. I would encourage new visitors to have a read through the comments below for some interesting ideas and perspectives. I learned two things in particular:

1. This is far more common that I thought. A lot of commenters either practice, or used to practice this kind of sleep.

2. Another possible reason for two sleeps is tending the fire during the night. Several clever readers noted that in order to keep a fire running through the night, we would need to get up and tend it.

Commenters also raised questions regarding non-European and non-Western cultures, which we’ll be digging into in future articles. For anyone who wants to learn more about this kind of sleep, I’ve linked below to two books referenced in the writing of this article, available on Amazon.

Your Angel Messages for October 13 – 19 from Doreen Virtue’s weekly angel card reading

 

Your Angel Messages for October 13 – 19


from Doreen Virtue’s weekly angel card reading

Published on Oct 12, 2014
http://youtu.be/QjLTmHrZ8Jg

This week, you’ve got to take action that will help you to feel happier. It’s an ideal week for you to refine and organize your plans . . . and then to go for it! During Mercury Retrograde, it’s not a good idea to begin something new, but you CAN definitely reorganize and move forward on a project that you’ve already begun previously. And this week is perfect to do so.

You’re being pushed to make some healthy life changes right now, and you will be rewarded for taking these steps. But you may not see the rewards until you first make the changes. You can do it!

Couple shed 280 pounds and get noticed for the right reasons

Thanks to a thyroid issue, I no longer need to lose weight, however, I DO need to gain muscle tone and be more active, multiple knee/thigh injuries be damned! I find their story inspiring. It makes me want to move, and get myself even stronger than I already am, so that my body mirrors the inner health of my recent annual physical lab results. People tell me I look younger than I am, healthy, but I am healthier than I look. So I share this not as a judgment about anyone, but in the spirit of inspiration I found in their story of transition to a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their family.  What they accomplished together without a trainer is remarkable. They achieved on their own the kind of results that contestants on The Biggest Loser series reach with much support. They simply started adding more good things to their diet and increased their activity level by doing enjoyable things that didn’t feel like a workout. They FEEL better, and are setting a good example for their kids.  “Rob and Jess now each weigh 167 pounds, down a collective 280 pounds. Jessica has lost 120 pounds from the start of their journey; Rob has lost 160. They feel healthier, happier and ready to tackle the world.”    -PB

 

Couple shed 280 pounds and get noticed for the right reasons
iReport CNN iReport
By Daphne Sashin, CNN

 

(CNN) — By the time he hit 327 pounds, Robert Foster had been playing “the fat guy” for decades. His size was the thing that made him stand out.

Publicly, he embraced his lifestyle as a “BBQ-lovin’, beef-eatin’, no-veggie-buyin'” male who wore T-shirts flaunting his hefty size. There was a particularly perverse one, he says looking back on it, which read “I beat anorexia.”

 

Privately, he was resentful that he wasn’t thinner. He felt angry when he couldn’t bear to take his four little girls to the park because he was too exhausted from unloading groceries. He resented being told he was too big for the seat-belt latch on amusement park rides.

 

His wife, Jessica, was also obese, at 287 pounds. Unlike Rob, she felt invisible. Customers at the bank where she worked stared past her as they made their transactions. In late 2011, a close family member made a comment at the dinner table that stuck with her:

 

“She used to be something to look at. Not anymore.”

 

In late March 2012, the Colorado couple had an emotional conversation. Jess was coming up on her 30th birthday and was sick of the way she looked and felt. They had had talks like this before, where they talked about needing to change, but something was different that night.

 

“I adore my kids and I love my husband very much, but there was that point I hated myself so much. I wasn’t giving them the full me because I was disgusted,” Jess said. “You have to look in the mirror and say, ‘Am I going to allow this to continue or am I going to stand up and make those changes?’ A light turned on upstairs.”

 

The next week, she began taking Zumba classes. In just a few weeks, she had lost 14 pounds — enough to motivate her to take on new physical challenges. She moved on to bikes and treadmills and made sure to sweat for an hour at least three times a week. After that, there was no turning back, she said.

 

Rob was a little slower to change — the thought of going for a run was “unappealing to the point of agony” — but he started playing tennis and stopped taking seconds at dinner.

 

In the summer of 2012, they added other physical activities that didn’t feel like working out, like hiking and recreational swimming with their kids and friends. They got hooked on the physical highs and wanted to do more.

 

Rob joined Jess in training for a 5-kilometer race that December. He walked as much as he ran, and Jess finished way ahead of him. But something in him changed.

 

“The race environment and the high fives and the feeling of accomplishment became addicting to me,” he said. “After that day, I swore I would work to run a 5k without slowing to a walk.”

 

In Rob’s words, “it got crazy from there.”

 

The more he ran, the more he felt he needed to run. When he put on his sneakers and took off, “I felt like my whole life was skyrocketing upward,” he said.

 

A few months after that first 5k, he ran his second, this time without walking. Then he did his first 10-mile run. And in May 2014, he ran his first marathon. By then he was 160 pounds lighter.

 

Throughout the process, the couple used a calorie-counting app to keep track of everything they ate. They knew they wanted to break their family’s cycle of unhealthy relationships with food while their children were still young.

 

“It got to the point where we realized it didn’t matter what we fed them,” Rob said. “If we weren’t eating the same way or if we were overeating, they were going to follow our example.”

 

The Fosters began shopping only the periphery of grocery stores, never entering the aisles unless it was for cereal. They added more fruits, vegetables and lean white meats and fish. They also began cooking everything they ate from scratch, including breads, dressings and sauces.

 

“Our whole philosophy towards food was adding good things,” Rob said. “What we found was, the more and more good things we added, the less we craved the garbage.”

 

After months of a diet rich in whole grains, green vegetables and lean meats, they recently made the decision to go vegan for health, environmental and ethical reasons.

 

Rob and Jess now each weigh 167 pounds, down a collective 280 pounds. Jessica has lost 120 pounds from the start of their journey; Rob has lost 160. They feel healthier, happier and ready to tackle the world.

 

Rob, a former bank branch manager, has gone back to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree in integrative physiology with the goal of entering medical school. This May, he completed his first year of college.

 

He’s not “the fat guy” anymore, and he’s fine with that.

 

Jess feels pretty great, too. Now a size 10, down from size 24, she’s still getting used to people paying attention to her. She re-entered the workforce in July 2013 after five years as a stay-at-home mom and was surprised at the difference in how people treated her.

 

“A lot of people became very friendly and were really looking at me in my face, instead of this blank stare. … And obviously, the opposite sex was more playful, always complimentary. I never had that. Never, ever, ever,” she said.

 

“I love myself. I like what I’m seeing in the mirror. I know there’s some work to still be done, but I’m such a different person than I was before.”

 

 

~~~