Tuesday, June 12

The Science of Sleep

According to some scientists, people did not always, nor did they feel it important to, sleep in continuous uninterrupted blocks during the night. From the article Slumber's Unexplored Landscape by Bruce Bower:
"Early modern Europeans usually sank each evening into what they called a 'first sleep,' which lasted for several hours. Shortly after midnight, they awoke and spent 1 or 2 hours in a 'watching period.' A 'second,' or 'morning,' sleep followed.
"The watching period presented many opportunities, Ekirch notes. People coming out of their first sleep often stayed in bed to pray, converse with a bedfellow, contemplate the day's events or the meaning of a dream, or simply let their minds wander in a semiconscious state of contentment that was prized at the time."
This 2006 article from the New York Times points out that diagnosing interrupted sleep as a problem is a relatively recent phenomenon, encouraged by the mass marketing of sleep-enhancing drugs.

Updated 8/24/13: A recent article on this topic: Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You