Well after the Industrial Revolution, many people in Britain still swore by the health benefits of a ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’.
For centuries, according to a sleep historian, they would use the time when they woke up at night to do household chores, visit friends – or make love to their spouse.
Sleeping through the night is by comparison a ‘modern invention’, according to Professor Roger Ekirch of Virginia Polytechnic and State University.
Speaking yesterday at the Royal Society of Medicine, he said: ‘Middle of the night insomnia was a rare problem before the late 1800s. As early as in the 16th century it was utterly normal, unworthy of comment.’
Bedtime was historically around 10pm, after which, he added: ‘Most individuals awakened shortly past midnight to an hour or so of consciousness, in which they meditated, they conversed and made love – not necessarily in that order.
I have a feeling that this is like that 80 days holiday for medieval peasants thing, a confusion between holiday and holy day there.
What makes me suspicious of the two sleep story is the cost of light. OK, so you don’t need the candle on for a shag but you do to do chores etc. And candles were expensive.
We also, at least so far as I know, don’t see such behaviour in people living at that same standard of living today, the $3 to $5 a day peeps out there.
But just because I don’t quite believe it doesn’t mean it’s not true. What would bolster my disbelief would be working out what is it that is being confused here, as with holy and holi days.