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"Sleep We Have Lost"


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Oct 15, 2012
Here ya go.... Our normal natural sleep cycles & patterns were interupted & changed last century... Everyone is now sleep deprived which I suspect is costing the population its natural mental & physical health and creating much mental illness & dis-ease.

"Sleep We Have Lost"


“But what is “natural” when it comes to sleep? Reiss looks to the historian A. Roger Ekirch, who, in 2001, documented that in early-modern Europe and North America the standard pattern for nighttime sleep was “segmented.” There were two periods, sometimes termed “dead sleep” and “morning sleep,” with intervals of an hour or more when the person was awake, sometimes called “the watching,” during which people might pray or read or have sex. In some indigenous societies in Nigeria, Central America, and Brazil, segmented sleep persisted into the twentieth century. Ekirch hypothesized that segmented sleep was our natural, evolutionary heritage, and that it had been disrupted in the West by the demands of industrialization, and by electricity, which made artificial lighting ubiquitous. Reiss cites Ekirch, who asserted that the fact that many people experience insomnia in the middle of the night, after a few hours of sleep, indicates that our ancestral rhythms have been disrupted by modernization.”
- Jerome Groopman, M.D., “The Secrets of Sleep,” New Yorker, October 23, 2017

Dr Bodhisattva Kar, who teaches a course on the histories of sleep at the University of Cape Town . . . is a scholar of the everyday, focusing on the complex forces that determine the aspects of our life we're most liable to take for granted. "You miss sleep and you miss one-third of human history," he says. For a long time, that's exactly what we were doing. But this spectacular oversight has gradually been addressed, beginning with historian A Roger Ekirch. Ekirch exposed that what we now consider "normal" sleep - one compacted session, at a similar time each night - only came about in the 19th century. Prior to that sleep was commonly segmented, and responsive to seasonal fluctuations: a "first sleep", shortly after dark, followed by a couple of hours of productive wakefulness, and then a "second sleep" until dawn. The interlude was filled with every imaginable activity - reading, puttering, and praying - and was also considered the ideal time for sex; having rested, and digested dinner, and with the promise of more slumber to come. Whether this is the "natural" way to sleep is disputed, but the fact that bi-phasic sleep was once prevalent goes to show that our current mode of consolidated sleep is anything but inevitable. How, then, did we come to lose one of our cherished sleeps? Ekirch blames artificial light, which keeps us up later. Moreover, he blames the Industrial Revolution with its relentless ideologies of efficiency and productivity. What a profound inconvenience, from this vantage, that we should have to shut down into a kind of non-existence for a third of our lives. And so the stage was set: the consolidating forces of capital versus the ancient forces of biological necessity.
- Anna Hartford, “The 8-hour Compromise,” Sunday Times(Johannesburg), September 24, 2017

“Today most westerners tend to get their rest in a single block of sleep each night, but this is very much a deviation from the norm. In a landmark 2005 book called At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, the American historian Roger Ekirch showed that from the dawn of literature in ancient Greece until well into the Industrial Revolution it was customary for us to snooze for a few hours, wake and toddle around doing chores in the middle of the night, and then go back to bed until morning.
- Oliver Moody, “Forget about eight hours, you need super-sleep - Scientists are waking up to the realisation that everything we thought we knew about a good night's rest may be wrong.” The Times (London), August 5, 2017

“A. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime, argues that biphasics or ‘medieval sleepers’ get closer to nature’s intention than the sleep we aspire to today (those precious eight uninterrupted hours).‘For thousands of years until the industrial age, humans slept twice,’ Ekirch says. ‘A deeper first sleep from sunset until around 2am, followed by an interval of wakefulness, usually lasting an hour, then a lighter second sleep until around 6am, or later in the winter.’ Insomnia, the interval in the middle, was used to visit neighbours, pray, or have sex, according to Ekirch. Only with the arrival of artificial lighting in the 1820s did sleep begin to compress into the pattern we now know. For years I battled my ‘medieval’ sleep schedule, thinking it eccentric and antisocial. . . . . More recently, with a husband who’s a rock-solid sleeper and a renewed gratitude for my wakeful hour, I’ve made peace with my medieval sleep patterns.”
- Sally Howard, “Are You a Medieval Sleeper? Why It’s Time to Put the Eight-hour Night to Bed,” Telegraph, July 22, 2017

“It was every historian’s dream. Roger Ekirch had stumbled across something hiding in plain sight that completely upended our assumptions about how human beings had slept.”
- James Fletcher , “The Inquiry,” BBC World News, June 29, 2017

“8. Take an intermission Historians now know that our ancestors slept very differently from us. While most adults today go to bed and stay in bed, in the past people slept for a period, woke up for an hour or so, and then went back to sleep. Virginia Tech professor A. Roger Ekirch reported that this “segmented sleep” made for all kinds of nocturnal break activities, from reading to praying to having sex. There’s no reason to force yourself to switch from consolidated sleep to segmented sleep, but if you find that you wake in the night, don’t stress yourself out trying to doze off again—you’re following in the path of your forebears.”
- Sarah Begley, “The 9 New Sleep Rules,” Time, April 29, 2017

“I thought I was an insomniac. I was struck night after night with sudden wakefulness at 2am or 2:30am in the morning. I would fight it, I would try to go back to sleep, I’d drink tea. I would do all the things that everyone tells you to do for insomnia, but none of it really worked. Years later, I’ve learned to embrace my wakefulness instead of fighting it. A couple of years ago I read an article that completely changed my perspective. Once, people woke up in the middle of the night regularly. “Nocturnal awakenings aren’t abnormal at all; they are the natural rhythm that your body gravitates toward. According to historians and psychiatrists alike, it is the compressed, continuous eight-hour sleep routine to which everyone aspires today that is unprecedented in human history.” “The dominant pattern of sleep, arguably since time immemorial, was biphasic,” said Roger Ekirch, a sleep historian at Virginia Tech University and author of “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past” (Norton 2005). . . . For me the impact was immediate. Imagine the freedom that opened when I no longer had to fight my middle of the night awakenings. No more disturbances or efforts to get back to sleep. Instead I pick up where I left off before bed or start something new based on what I was dreaming just before.”
- Aimee Michelle Haynes, Thrive Global, April 27, 2017

“Sleep deprivation often hits the headlines and we are frequently told we need 8 hours a night. But how much sleep do we really need? Are we sleeping less than we used to and is today's society really sleep deprived? A recent meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine aimed to answer these questions. Historian Professor Roger Ekirch, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, USA, reminded us that never before in human history should we be sleeping more soundly. Ekirch recounted the multiple ways in which sleep prior to modernity was highly vulnerable to disruption including bedding rife with house mites; frigid temperatures in poorly insulated buildings; and fear of demons and also of the peril of fire. And so while we have every reason to think our sleep has never been better, we seem to have increasing complaints of fatigue and insomnia, in particular, middle-of-the-night insomnia. But is this really a new phenomenon? The compressed, consolidated pattern of sleep is actually less than two centuries old. Previously most families experienced a broken pattern of sleep, with 'first sleep' from 9pm until midnight, an hour or so awake followed by a 'second sleep'. This biphasic pattern was rarely viewed in a negative way. The evolution into our modern consolidated sleep pattern was something that occurred over the 19th century, a time of dramatic change with reform movements and the increasing prevalence of artificial illumination. Ekirch argued that perhaps people that suffer from the middle of the night insomnia may actually be undergoing this older pattern of sleep and patients should be relieved of anxiety and their insomnia should be better termed ‘wakefulness’".
- April Cashin-Garbutt, Feb. 8, 2017, “A Royal Society of Medicine Meeting Review,” News-Medical Net

Two hundred years ago, before the Industrial Revolution, our ancestors had, in fact, a rhythm very different from ours. The latter were sleeping in twice, with a waking phase between the two during which they prayed, made love, wondered about their dreams or shared moments with members of their community. . . . However, with the arrival of electricity, which prolongs the days, families began to stay awake later and later to delay the time of their bed, and thus to suppress the waking hour in the middle of the night. For Roger Ekirch, this change in sleep rhythm would be responsible for certain forms of insomnia, such as the night-time awakening. . . . Although his work is taken seriously by a large part of the scientific community, some dispute it. This is the case of Gandhi Yetish, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who believes that this vision is not universal and does not adapt to all societies.
- “Pourquoi Dormir D’une Traite la Nuit N’est Peut-Être Pas si Naturel,”GQ France, Mar. 24, 2017

Weirdly enough though, the way we sleep has changed drastically in the past two hundred years. In fact, our ancestors didn’t sleep through the night at all. Some scholars think they instead slept in two distinct shifts.Science of Us points to historian Roger Ekirch who says that patterns from people in early modern Europe and North America that show that humans slept in a “dead” and “morning” shift. This pattern is consistent with communities from many other cultures, including Brazil, Nigeria, and parts of Central America, leading Ekirch to believe that this might have been a universal model of sleep. What changed? As with everything, it was technology. When artificial lighting became widely available, people began realizing that tasks they had previously been unable to do in the dark were suddenly doable. Consequently, they began shifting their bedtimes later and later. As they did that, the space between the two sleep shifts shrank. Soon enough, it was just easier to sleep in one long shift through the night.
- Alanna Nuñez, This Is Why Humans Sleep Through the Night, And how to take a cue from our ancestors if you have sleeping troubles, Men’s Health, Mar. 9, 2017

“[The historian Roger Ekirch’s] essay "Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles", published in 2001, has now become a classic. . . . Ekirch develops the idea that before the 1800s, in Europe and North America, sleep was divided into two parts: the "first sleep" or "deep sleep" andthe "second sleep" or "morning sleep" that makes it possible to wake up gently. The historian has demonstrated that this period of nocturnal awakening was used to pray, make love, interpret dreams, or ensure the safety of the group. Habits that disappeared in the nineteenth century in Europe and North America with the arrival of powerful artificial lights, said the magazine. For Roger Ekirch, artificial light in our modernsocieties has "upset our ancestral sleep cycle”, more than new technologies or the new organization of work.”
- Florian Adam, ‘Is it made to sleep in a slice or in a segmented way?”, Slate (France), March 9, 2017

“The first scholar to put consolidated sleep—today’s standard ‘one straight shot throughout the night’—under the microscope was historian Roger Ekirch. In his fascinating 2001 essay ‘Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles,’ Ekirch revealed that across a wide range of nationalities and social classes in early modern Europe and North America, the standard pattern for nighttime sleep was to do it in two shifts of ‘segmented sleep.’ These two sleeps—sometimes called first and second sleep, sometimes ‘dead sleep’ and ‘morning sleep’—bridged an interval of ‘quiet wakefulness’ that lasted an hour or more. (The interval itself was sometimes called ‘the watching.’) Ekirch’s subsequent work offered evidence that a segmented nighttime pattern persisted well into the twentieth century in many non-Western locales, including among indigenous cultures in Nigeria, Central America, and Brazil. During the period of nighttime wakefulness, Ekirch showed, different cultures elaborated rituals—of prayer, lovemaking, dream interpretation, or security checks—and while the rituals varied, the pattern itself was so pervasive as to suggest an evolutionary basis that somehow became disrupted in the modern West. So why did this mode of sleeping fall by the wayside, in favor of the eight-hour, lie-down-and-die model that has become an unquestioned norm? According to Ekirch, the main culprit was the spread of powerful artificial lighting in the nineteenth century in Europe and North America, and later in other locales. As activities that were previously nearly impossible to conduct under cover of darkness became fashionable under an ever-widening penumbra of powerful light, Europeans and Americans gradually shifted their bedtimes later. And as the available space between first and second sleeps shrank, the pattern of two nocturnal sleeps—and the enchanted space between them—became untenable. So complete was the transition to consolidated sleep that an American newspaper advice column in 1911 counseled readers who couldn’t sleep well to take their sleep in two shifts—as if this were a novel suggestion! Ekirch argues that the reason so many of us experience middle-of-the-night insomnia (the kind that comes after a few hours of sleep), is that ever since electric lights reordered our sense of time, we’ve disrupted our ancestral—perhaps our evolutionary—rhythms. And while Ekirch eventually came to view the reasons for the shift from segmented to consolidated sleep as more complicated than just exposure to light—including shifts in technology, changing cultural attitudes toward work and rest, and the economic pressure to manage time more efficiently under industrial capitalism—powerful artificial lighting, he wrote, still ‘exerted the broadest and most enduring impact upon sleep’s consolidation’. . . Sleep specialists in the United States and Europe have begun to take these findings seriously, reevaluating the common wisdom that healthy sleep means uninterrupted nocturnal slumber. Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford University, saw a therapeutic value in this new view of what constitutes normal sleep: ‘Many people wake up at night and panic,” he said in an interview. “I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.’”
- Benjamin Reiss, “Sleeping Through the Night is a Relatively New Invention,” New York Magazine, March 8, 2017

“In 2005, the historian A. Roger Ekirch sparked a new conversation by reintroducing an old practice: segmented sleep. Up until the industrial era, people slept in two, four-hour chunks, separated by a late-night break, instead of the eight hours of uninterrupted rest that's become the modern-day standard. Learning of this bygone historical practice was no less than revelatory for many people who sought to revive the golden era of sleep.”
- Theresa Foster, Van Winkle’s, March 3, 2017

“We know that before the machine age, people slept in a variety of ways, including (famously) ‘segmented sleep,’ or sleep in two shifts.”
- Jennifer Senior, New York Times, March 1, 2017

“Our findings also support predictions from the sleep segmentation hypothesis. Functional linear modeling of both female and male subjects directly engaged in agricultural activities show that 24 h time-averaged actigraphy sleep-wake patters are unconsolidated, or segmented. In particular, we documented an increase in activity after midnight, which is especially pronounced in males. These data evince a pattern strikingly similar to the “first sleep” and “second sleep” pattern described by Ekirch (2006, 2016).
- David Sansom et al., “Segmented Sleep in Nonelectric, Small-Scale Agricultural Society in Madagascar,” American Journal of Human Biology, January 2017, p.10.

“Thanks to fascinating research I've recently come across, I've realized that what I'm doing is entirely natural. It turns out that I'm not an insomniac with a medical problem, but someone whose sleeping pattern harks back to an earlier time. I am sleeping less like a 21st century man and much more like our ancestors did. And knowing that has helped me conquer my anxiety so that I am sleeping better than I have in years. . . Surprisingly, the person who has done most to highlight its importance is not a doctor, but a historian, Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech in the U.S.”
- Dr. Michael Moseley, “Doctor Michael Moseley Reveals How He Defeated His Sleep Problem,” Daily Mail, Oct. 25, 2016

“Ekirch (2001, 2006, 2016), has done important work in documenting different sleep patterns in the preindustrial world. . . . . For individuals who wake up in the middle of the night, the realization that their awakening may just be a throwback to an earlier sleep pattern may reduce some of the frustration and anxiety they feel.”
- John Cline, PhD, “Up in the Middle of the Night,” Psychology Today, Oct.1, 2016

Historian A. Roger Ekirch’s book At day’s close: night in times past describes how households at this time retired a couple of hours after dusk, woke a few hours later for one to two hours, and then had a second sleep until dawn. During this waking period, people would relax, ponder their dreams or have sex. Some would engage in activities like sewing, chopping wood or reading, relying on the light of the moon or oil lamps. Ekirch found references to the first and second sleep started to during the late 17th century. This is thought to have started in the upper classes in Northern Europe and filtered down to the rest of Western society over the next 200 years. Interestingly, the appearance of sleep maintenance insomnia in the literature in the late 19th century coincides with the period where accounts of split sleep start to disappear. Thus, modern society may place unnecessary pressure on individuals that they must obtain a night of continuous consolidated sleep every night, adding to the anxiety about sleep and perpetuating the problem.
-Melinda Jackson, PhD and Siobhan Banks, PhD, “Did We Used to Have Two Sleeps Rather Than One?” The Conversation, June 15, 2016

“In At Day’s Close, historian Roger Ekrich of Virginia Tech drew together diaries, court records, anthropology, and high literature to demonstrate that many people slept in two sittings (dual sleeping). There was a first sleep, which began after dusk, followed by a waking period of one to two hours, and then a second sleeping period. During the waking period people would read, pray, have sex, and even visit neighbors. . . . All of this has profound implications for people who have trouble staying asleep at night. . . . Today advertising encourages us to medicate ourselves if we have trouble sleeping for eight straight hours. But sleeping for extended periods might not be natural at all; it might just be our bodies’ response to artificial stimuli like caffeine and lighting. So if your partner wakes you up in the middle of the night because he’s unable to sleep, spare him your wrath. After all, you’re the one with the abnormal sleep pattern.”
- Candida Moss, “We’ve Never Agreed on How to Sleep,” Daily Beast, April 17, 2016

“Until streetlights, being up late meant wandering town in butt-clenching terror, tripping over stray animals until the wind blew out your lantern and you were set upon by armed bandits. So you went home before dark and went to bed early, waking after midnight. Much of this was forgotten until 2001, when the historian Roger Ekirch unearthed segmented sleep in the cultural history of pre-19th-century Europe.”
- Jesse Barron, “Segmented Sleep,” New York Times Magazine, March 31, 2016

“Ekirch’s work has been widely embraced by sleep scientists and has informed our scientific understanding of insomnia. An important implication of these historical findings is the idea that insomnia of the waking-up-in-the-wee-hours variety — as opposed to insomnia that involves struggling to fall asleep — is likely a remnant of this long-dominant pattern of sleep, rather than a disorder. People with this type of insomnia, who likely have more sensitive circadian rhythms and a greater sensitivity to light, may be better suited to biphasic rather than consolidated sleep. ‘Middle-of-the-night insomnia — the most common form of insomnia today — only becomes viewed as a medical problem in the late 19th and early 20th century,’ Ekirch said. ‘Before then, awakening in the middle of the night was thought to be utterly natural.’”
-Claire Gregoire, “Why Sleeping Though the Night May Not be ‘Natural,’”Huffington Post, March 23, 2016

“An eight-hour stretch of sleep may not even be natural. In his book ‘At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past,’ the historian Roger Ekirch cites more than five hundred references from diaries, court records, medical papers, and literature, demonstrating that our pre-industrial ancestors slept in two discrete parcels of time. After what a character in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ called the ‘firste sleep,’ you awoke around midnight for an hour or so, and might engage in, say, tending the fire, brewing ale, fooling around, committing petty larceny, praying. Then you would sleep again until dawn.”
-Patricia Marx, “In Search of Forty Winks,” The New Yorker, February 15, 2016

“Historian Roger Ekirch's acclaimed book - At Day's Close: Night In Times Past - cites over 500 historical references, for instance, in diaries and court papers, to a segmented sleeping pattern. Centuries ago, two shorter sleeps, rather than one long one, was the norm.”
- Anna Maxstead, “What Losing an Hour's Sleep will Do to Your Body,Telegraph, March 27, 2015

“Our classic eight-hour-night only dates back to the invention of the light bulb in the late 1800s. Historians believe that before the dawn of electric lighting most people got plenty of sleep, and practiced what they call “segmented sleep,” snoozing for several hours in the first part of the night, when darkness fell, then waking in the middle of the night for a few hours of eating, drinking, praying, chatting with friends or maybe even canoodling, before ducking back under the covers again until morning. The arrival of electricity, argues sleep historian A. Roger Ekirch, led to later bedtimes and fewer hours of sleep overall.”
- Betsy Isaacson, “Our Sleep Problem and What to Do About It,”Newsweek, Jan. 30, 2015

“In 2001, the historian Roger Ekirch published a remarkable study that drew upon hundreds of diaries and instructional manuals to convincingly argue that humans had historically divided their long nights into two distinct sleep periods.”
- Steven Johnson, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World (New York, 2014).

“Dating well into the 18th century, two periods of wakefulness alternating with two shifts of sleep per 24 hours is normal. During this time period, it is common for people to pray, think, reflect on dreams, brew ale, and even visit neighbors in the middle of the night."
- Harvard University Medical School, Division of Sleep Medicine, 2014

“This sleeping pattern is called segmented sleep. Historical documents across cultures show plenty of references to a first and second sleep, divided by a period of being awake in the middle of the night. . . . . But lest you think that time was just wasted when people woke in the middle of the night, there are some very well-known, very productive people who used that period of night-waking to think and to write, both before the advent of electric lighting and after - people like Thomas Jefferson and Frank Lloyd Wright.”
- Tess Vigeland, “All Things Considered,” NPR, 2014

“Ekirch’s ideas were the subject of a dedicated session at Sleep 2013, the annual meeting of the US Associated Professional Sleep Societies. One of the biggest implications to emerge was that the most common insomnia, ‘middle-of-the-night insomnia’, is not a disorder but rather a harking back to a natural form of sleep – a shift in perception that greatly reduced my own concern about night-waking.”
- Karen Emslie, “Why Broken Sleep is a Golden Time for Creativity,” Aeon Magazine, Nov. 7, 2014

“So many people have sleep problems today, so many! It's important for us to learn from history here, that it may not be all that normal to sleep through the night.”
- Anne Rice, novelist, October 2, 2014

“The anthropologist and historian Roger Ekirch believes the largest contributing factor to the adoption of monophasic sleep (sleeping once a day) has been the widespread availability of artificial light since industrialisation in the mid 19th century. He also says the arrival of electricity has triggered later bedtimes and fewer overall hours of rest. For centuries, polyphasic patterns dictated the 24-hour cycle. In the Middle Ages, adults typically slept in multiple segmented two- to three-hour periods, waking for stints of conscious restfulness, prayer, or sex before retiring again to slumber.”
- Elizabeth Paton, “Our Waking Hours Increase with the Demands of Modern Life,” Financial Times, May 18, 2014

“Our ancestors had a different solution. Homer and Chaucer both refer to the ancient practice of a short "fyrste sleep" at dusk after which people awoke – and talked, read, prayed, had sex, brewed beer or burgled – before a second sleep till dawn, the historian Roger Ekirch reveals in his book At Day's Close.”
- Paul Vallely, “We Need Real Sleep,” Independent, May 15, 2014

“Computers, phones, light bulbs…they all attack our eyes with artificial light, tricking our body clocks into living at a perpetual high noon. Temporal disorientation is an unintended consequence of technological innovation. As a result we’re missing out on true wakefulness and, in the process, creativity that sprouts from a brain that is properly rested. Waking up in the middle of the night? That’s totally natural and it might do us some good, according to sleep historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech. “Typically people went to bed at nine or 10 o’clock. They slept for three, at most, four hours, and then they rose” sometime after midnight to do “anything and everything imaginable,” he says. Then people went back to bed until dawn to rise naturally with the morning light. That was before the gaslight proliferated in factories and homes in the early 1800s. Now, few of us know true night.”
- Alex Goldmark, “Want to be More Creative? Sleep Like the Ancients Did,” Fast Company, May 14, 2014

“This obsession with eight hours of continuous sleep is largely a creation of the electrified age. Back when night fell for, on average, half of each 24 hours, people slept in phases. In “At Day’s Close,” a remarkable history of night in the early modern West, Roger Ekirch writes that people fell asleep not long after dark for the “first sleep.” Then they awoke, somnolent but not asleep, often around midnight, when for a few hours they talked, read, prayed, had sex, brewed beer or burgled. Then they went back to sleep for a shorter period. Mr. Ekirch concludes, ‘There is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age, with a provenance as old as humankind.’”
- T.M. Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University, “To Dream in Different Cultures,” New York Times, May 13, 2014

“Should sleep happen in one solid block? Many people believe that they should sleep "straight through" the night, without waking up. In reality, sleep is never continuous when measured objectively. A recent historical account of sleep presented strong evidence that until very recently, most people slept in two blocks at night, separated by about an hour or so of quiet waking time in the middle of the night (Ekirch: At Day's Close: Night in Times Past).”
- “Frequently Asked Questions,” Massachusetts General Hospital Neurology-Sleep Center, 2014

“In the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in 2013, there was a symposium dedicated to the history and science of segmented sleep and the (arguably mythical) assumption that sleep should be (or at least feel like it is) uninterrupted. Among the speakers was historian A. Roger Ekirch, author of “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past” who provided intriguing context to the presentations by leaders in the field.”
- Matt T. Bianchi, “Sleep Deprivation: Practical and Philosophical Considerations,” in Bianchi, ed., Sleep Deprivation and Disease: Effects on the Body, Brain and Behavior (New York, 2014), p.16.

And even the idea that we should naturally sleep through the night, as I so often don’t, is in dispute. According to the historian A Roger Ekirch, in pre-industrial times it was common to have a ‘first or ’deep sleep’ and a ‘second’ or ‘morning sleep’, with an hour or more of wakefulness between, sometimes referred to as ‘the watch’.
- Kate Bussmann, “The Science of Sleep,” Sunday Telegraph, April 27, 2014

"The most effective remedy for me, and one that continues to work today was history, and I don't mean the sedative qualities of history textbooks. A glance through books on the history of the night (a wonderful new field of research), shows that our idea of an eight-hour sleep is actually very recent and only came about with gas-lighting and industrialisation in the late 18th century. Before this people did what many insomniacs still do: they had two sleeps. Historian Roger Ekirch has found that in preindustrial households families would awaken in the dead of night for a period of time. Generally people would sleep for three to four hours, wake for two to three hours and then sleep again until the morning. What would they do in this interim period? Ekirch says that they'd go visiting neighbours, study, stoke fires, pray, smoke tobacco and have sex. One doctor from the 1500s said that the reason why working class people had more children is because they always have sex after first sleep. And yes, they would refer to their sleep not in terms of one eight-hour block but in terms of first sleep and second sleep.The difference, of course, is that night was a more vast and perilous period than for us. There was no electric indoor lighting or street lighting to allow for the intrusion of work and so sleep generally fell over a 12-hour period. People also couldn't travel the distances that we do today during the night for fear of bandits, screeching owls or wolves that look like hounds. When lighting made the night a site of pleasure rather than peril, and industrialisation made the day an expansive terrain of productive labour, two luxurious sleeps became one. How does this history help insomnia? For me, it proved that there was nothing natural or inevitable about the idea of an eight-hour uninterrupted sleep. If I went to bed earlier, it was OK to wake up for a few hours. It also meant that I stopped howling into the void during those few hours I was awake and instead used that time to read novels, do relaxation exercises or write. In my efforts to keep as close to my medieval forbears as possible, I never looked at my phone. The worst thing you can do when you wake up at 3am is to stress. And nothing is likely to induce panic more than the idea that sleeping uninterrupted for eight hours is necessary for mental and physical health.”
- Aleica Simmonds, “Awake in Fright: Insomnia Made My Life Unbearable,” Sydney Morning Herald, Apr. 23, 2014

“Ancient peoples, without electric lights and Twitter, slept twice: first sleep and second sleep. Homer talks about it in the Odyssey. The historian A. Roger Ekirch has suggested that before the Industrial Revolution it was entirely normal to wake up in the middle of the night for an hour or two, read or think or talk to a bedfellow or go for a walk or have sex, and then go back to sleep. I remind myself of this. It’s completely normal.”
- Naomi Alderman, “Insomnia and Me,” The Guardian, April 18, 2014

“Historical tidbit of the week: Mary’s awake in the middle of the night, referencing segmented sleep, a sleep pattern widely accepted until the last century or so, in which a sleeper experienced two four-hour periods of sleep, interrupted by a period of wakefulness in which it was common to tend to the house, visit with family, pray, and burn down your neighbor’s cabbages.”
- A.V. Club/The Onion on the second episode of the AMC television series “Turn,” April 14, 2014

“Professor Ekirch says the references are strong evidence, because the way they are worded consistently reveals this was routine and normal, nothing special or unusual - just the way things were, taken for granted. Top experts in sleep disorders, albeit not necessarily family physicians, now tell some patients not to worry if they routinely wake up for a few hours, then sleep a second shift. It may be culturally worrisome to people, but it's not necessarily harmful.”
- Telegraph Journal (Saint John, New Brunswick), Mar. 10, 2014

“One of the most profound advances that the study of sleep has turned up so far, namely Ekirch’s rediscovery of non-consolidated sleep in Europe and North America . . . .That we used to sleep differently and that consolidated sleep might be socially constructed has the potential to radically unsettle the science and medicine of sleep – and to open up possibilities for thinking about what else has been shaped so thoroughly by the civilizing process (to invoke Norbert Elias) as to totally escape notice or critique.”
- Benjamin Reiss, Emory University, “Sleep’s Hidden Histories,” Los Angeles Review of Books, Feb. 15, 2014.

“Historian A. Roger Ekirch made the remarkable discovery that up until the Industrial Age, most Europeans experienced two spans of sleep per night, with an hour or two of quiet wakefulness between.”
- Kate Duff, The Secret Life of Sleep (Beyond Words Books, 2014)

“The sleep rhythms of the human brain have fundamentally changed over the centuries. Medieval literary texts, medical manuscripts and tales make reference to a mysterious "first sleep" and "second sleep." The "first sleep" began shortly after sundown and lasted until after midnight. When people woke up, they would pray, read, have sex, whatever. The "second sleep" then lasted until sunup. In experiments, researchers have found that when people live solely by natural light, they revert back to this ancient "segmented sleep" pattern and that, chemically, the body in that interval between first and second sleep is "in a state equivalent to what you might feel after spending a day at the spa." It seems that, thanks to the light bulb, the entire industrialized world is sleeping unnaturally.”
- Maureen Corrigan, “Fresh Air,” NPR, 2013

“It may bring some comfort to those who go to bed, only to wake up in the middle of the night frustratedly unable to get back to sleep. While today this is seen as insomnia, until the end of the 19th century people did it on purpose. Well after the Industrial Revolution, many people in Britain still swore by the health benefits of a ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’. Although insomnia is often thought of as a problem now, until the late 1800s, it was usual to wake up in the night and do chores before going back to bed. 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 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. ‘A 16th century physician said making love was better after the first sleep, when people have more enjoyment and do it better.’ People used the gap between their first and second sleep to wash clothes, have a conversation or even to steal the neighbour’s firewood, historical records show. It was thought that lovemaking between the two sleep phases was responsible for large families, with labourers able to conceive several children because they waited until after their energy-giving first sleep to do it. It was also thought to aid digestion, if people turned from lying on their right to their left when they woke up during the night. References to two phases of sleep go back to Chaucer, with a character in The Squire’s Tale, in the Canterbury Tales, deciding to go back to bed after her ‘firste sleep’. The concept of sleeping through is a relatively modern invention and thanks to people working longer hours in the Industrial Revolution. Unless kept awake by a cold house, bed bugs or worry, most people were unconcerned about getting up in the night. It was not seen as insomnia, and ‘sleeplessness’ referred only to failing to fall asleep in the first place. But the practice of having a first and second sleep fell out of favour in the decades following the Industrial Revolution, when people increasingly worked long hours as machine manufacturing dominated British industry. The sleep historian said the shift came at the end of the 19th century, as the end of the first sleep crept later to around 3am, before it was jettisoned altogether. Suddenly sleeping in two phases was seen as inefficient and people were warned that indulging would lead to headaches and constipation. It was even feared that it might, in young men and women, cause ‘lustful thoughts’. Speaking at a Royal Society event in London on the subject of sleep, Prof Ekirch said: ‘Sleep represented a necessary evil best confined to a single interval, thus allowing someone to steal the march on the day and on one’s fellow human beings who were still enjoying their second sleep.’ As a result, today, the history professor said, many people who wake at night think they are ‘abnormal’. However research suggests this may be a normal sleeping pattern when people are away from artificial lights and the blue light from electronic devices. Prof Ekirch said: ‘Rather than the product of an implacable disorder, their sleep, viewed from the high ground of history, may just be natural.’
- Victoria Allen, “Why waking up in the night is natural: People regularly use to have two periods of sleep and do tasks in between,” Daily Mail, Feb. 7, 2017
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Midas Member
Sr Site Supporter
Apr 2, 2010
Reiss cites Ekirch, who asserted that the fact that many people experience insomnia in the middle of the night, after a few hours of sleep, indicates that our ancestral rhythms have been disrupted by modernization.”
When I was a working person, I would wake between 3 & 3:30 am, with solutions to the previous days work related problems. BUT how do they know what our ancestors sleep patterns were - they are all dead !

“Today most westerners tend to get their rest in a single block of sleep each night,
NOT ME, I'm up several times a night to PEEEEE !!!! LOLOL

Juristic Person

They drew first blood
Platinum Bling
Mar 31, 2010
Very interested in sleep studies. I don't believe the 8 hour recommendation is necessary...or even ideal.


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Mar 31, 2010
When I was a working person, I would wake between 3 & 3:30 am, with solutions to the previous days work related problems.
Me too! I work on things in my sleep and wake up with solutions. If I can't figure something out during the day, I just put it off until I can sleep on it. Same with big decisions, I like to sleep on it.


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Mar 31, 2010
One thing I didn't see in the ancestral sleep studies was the involvement of alcohol in sleep patterns. From what I understand, men used to drink much more alcohol than most men today (supposedly because of contaminated water). Alcohol completely disrupts my sleep.