Segmented Sleep, Or Why Thahajjud is Good for Your Health !

“And I have found
evolutionary and historical precedent for my sleep cycles. Just the
other day I spoke with Roger Ekirch, a Virginia Tech historian who has
focused on sleep in Western cultures and has written At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.
He told me that in the preindustrial era, before the proliferation of
modern lighting, people routinely used to wake from their ‘first sleep’
sometime after midnight to talk with others, smoke a pipe, rob the
nearby orchard or bring in the cows. After about an hour, he said,
people returned to bed for their ‘second sleep’ until dawn. ‘It makes
perfect sense if you accept the premise that segmented sleep was the
dominant form of slumber before the Industrial Revolution,’ Ekirch
said. ‘It makes perfect sense that a biological pattern since time
immemorial would not relinquish its hold easily, that it would not fade
rapidly into the mists of history. The process instead would be
prolonged and erratic. Consolidated sleep is an artificial invention of
modern life.’”
– Laura Hambleton, “An Insomniac Learns to Make the Most of Getting the Least Sleep,” The Washington Post, February 14, 2011

“But
what’s interesting is that in some of the research that’s come out,
particularly Roger Ekirch’s book, his history of the night, he talks
about before the invention of electric light, people slept in segmented
sleep. They would sleep for a few hours, they’d be up for several
hours, and then they’d be – fall back asleep again. So in many respects
that sleep pattern is fairly natural.” 

Patricia Morrisroe, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” May 4, 2010 

“But
is insomnia a modern problem? Are we sleeping less than we used to?
Did people in prehistoric and ancient times really crash with the
sunset and sleep til the cocks crowed? Is the prescribed eight hours a
construct to suit industrial times? In his 2005 ground-breaking book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past,
American historian Roger Ekirch documented how humans slept through
the ages — but not necessarily through the night. ‘He said that people
slept in segmented sleep,’’ says [Patricia] Morrisroe. ‘They’d fall
asleep for a couple of hours. They’d get up. They might talk. They
might have sex with their bedfellows as there were often multiple
people in beds because they often had communal beds. They’d pray. They
would analyze their dreams. Maybe some would go out and steal
livestock. Then they would go back to sleep. So this concept of
segmented sleep may be very natural to us.’’’

Antonia Zerbislas, Toronto Star, May 1, 2010

“Ekirch
relates, in perhaps his most fascinating revelation, pre-industrial
man slept a segmented sleep. He has found more than 500 references,
from Homer onwards, to a ‘first sleep’ that lasted until maybe
midnight, and was followed by ‘second sleep’. In between the two,
people routinely got up, peed, smoked, read, chatted, had friends
round, or simply reflected on the events of the previous day – and on
their dreams. (Plenty also had sex, by all accounts far more
satisfactorily than at the end of a hard day’s labouring. Couples who
copulated ‘after the first sleep, wrote a 16th-century French doctor,
‘have more enjoyment, and do it better’.)  Experiments by Dr Thomas
Wehr at America’s National Institute of Mental Health appear to bear
out the theory that this two-part slumber is man’s natural sleeping
pattern: a group of young male volunteers deprived of light at night
for weeks at a time rapidly fell into the segmented sleep routine
described in so many of Ekirch’s documentary sources. It could even be,
Wehr has theorised, that many of today’s common sleeping disorders are
essentially the result of our older, primal habits “breaking through
into today’s artificial world.’”

Jon Henley, “The Dark Ages,” The Guardian (London), October 24, 2009

“But
is it possible that such expectations are too much – that there never
was such thing as a great night’s sleep? In pre-industrial Europe, for
example, sleeping for eight consecutive hours wasn’t normal, American
historian Roger Ekirch says. While in Britain to research his 2005
book, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, he discovered what
he calls ‘segmented sleep.’ ‘The consolidated, seamless sleep we enjoy
today was not the norm in the 19th century,’ he says on the phone from
Virginia Tech, where he teaches. ‘There is no idyllic past in terms of
sleep.’ Instead, people slept for two to three hours, surrounded by
braying animals, people emitting terrible smells, and other
environmental disturbances. They awoke at midnight for one or two
hours, and then settled back down for a second ‘dawn’ slumber. In the
interval, people stoked the fire, made love, prepared the next day’s
meal, stole apples from the neighbours, prayed, meditated or reflected
upon their dreams. ‘Basically, they did anything and everything
imaginable,’ Prof. Ekirch says with a chuckle. His findings resonate
with those of scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health in
Washington D.C., who have conducted clinical research into segmented
sleep and found that, without the interference of artificial light,
many people naturally slept in two phases.‘Insomniacs may simply be
experiencing this pre-industrial, once-dominant pattern of sleep,’
Prof. Ekirch says.”

The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Nov. 15, 2008

“But
to alter and really shake up our expectations – as one might renew a
flattened eiderdown – we need the historian A Roger Ekirch to come to
our aid. He explains (in At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime)
that before the industrial revolution, it was the norm for people to
sleep in two parts (a sort of sleep sandwich). In the middle – the
filling – all manner of things went on. ‘Families rose to urinate,
smoke tobacco, and even visit close neighbours. Many others made love,
prayed, and, most important, historically, reflected on their dreams, a
significant source of solace and self-awareness.’ It is an upbeat
idea: the night as opportunity. But it is easier to imagine than to
achieve.”

Kate Kellaway, “Is Anxiety about
Sleep Keeping Us All Awake?,” The Observer (London), April 27, 2008

“.
. . fascinating historical and scientific research that challenges the
consensus view of sleep as a continuous, consolidated 8-hour block of
time. When University of Virginia [Virginia Tech] historian A. Roger
Ekirch began researching sleep in pre-industrial societies he was
surprised by hundreds of references to something called “first sleep”
and a second or “morning sleep.” It seems as though before the advent
of mass artificial lighting – with its attendant suite of late-night
consumption opportunities – much of the Western world slept in two
sections: once in the early evening, and once more in the early
morning. In between our ancestors woke for several hours to a curious
state of consciousness that had no name, other that the generic “watch”
or “watching.” Ekirch’s historical evidence aligns with scientific
findings from the respected National Institutes of Health
chronobiologist Thomas Wehr. For one month Wehr had a group of
volunteers spend the full duration of a 14-hour winter’s night in bed.
Every one of the volunteers lapsed into a segmented sleep pattern.
Although it took a succession of long winter nights to provoke this
kind of sleep, when Wehr published his findings he speculated that
segmented sleep may be the default physiological pattern for humans in
general – certainly it matched similar patterns observed in modern
forager cultures.”

Jeff Warren, Huffington Post, April 25, 2008

“Research
by Professor Ekirch revealed that in pre-industrial times, before
electricity and gaslights, people typically slept in two bouts of four
hours.  There would be a gap of wakefulness in-between lasting about
two hours.  A similar result was found by sleep researchers in the
nineties at the National Institute of Mental Health, when people were
exposed to light that mimicked natural variations of day and night.  So
it may be comforting to know that your experience may not necessarily
be abnormal, but possibly a remnant of normal mammalian evolution. 
Indeed some animals like chimpanzees and giraffes are reported to share
the same sleep patterns.” 
– Neel Halder, M.D., Royal College of Psychiatry, Manchester Evening News, March 3, 2008

“In
ancient times, according to two recent histories of sleep, people
probably slept no better than we insomniacs – they woke frequently to
tend their animals or children, all snorting and snoring in the same
sleeping space. Night was often a ghastly time. In some societies,
sleep was broken into two four-hour shifts, with singing or other
activities in-between. So people who wake up in the middle of the night
and can’t fall back to sleep easily may be reverting to ancient
patterns. ‘It’s the seamless sleep we aspire to that’s the anomaly, the
creation of the modern world,’ Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close, told The New York Times recently.”

Adele Horin, “Unravel the Sleeve
of Care for a Decent Night’s Sleep,” Sydney Morning Herald, February
23, 2008

“In a provocative article last year in Applied Neurology,
Dr. Walter Brown reviews historical descriptions of pre-industrial
sleep and suggests that sleeping in two nightly shifts separated by an
hour or two of quiet wakefulness is completely normal.  I encourage you
to read it.  He proposes that the advent of inexpensive artificial
light allowed us to stay awake long after sundown and has led us to be
so chronically sleep deprived that we usually sleep for 7 uninterrupted
hours nightly.  This uninterrupted sleep pattern has now become the
new norm.  When our natural pattern of sleeping in two shifts reasserts
itself, we find it abnormal and distressing.  We are sure something is
wrong, and a whole industry has sprung up to reinforce our anxiety and
help us sleep the way we think we should. Our expectations about our
bodies go a long way toward shaping what symptoms we find distressing
and what we ignore.  Many patients are quite alarmed about entirely
normal symptoms and refuse to be reassured.  But patients alone are not
to be blamed.  Many forces have pushed modern medicine to pathologize
normal symptoms.  After all, pharmaceutical companies sell
prescriptions, not reassurance.” 

Albert Fuchs, M.D., Beverly Hills, California, Dec. 13, 2007, http://www.albertfuchs.com

 “More
surprising still, Ekirch reports that for many centuries, and perhaps
back to Homer, Western society slept in two shifts. People went to
sleep, got up in the middle of the night for an hour or so, and then
went to sleep again. Thus night — divided into a ‘first sleep’ and
‘second sleep’ — also included a curious intermission. ‘There was an
extraordinary level of activity,’ Ekirch told me. People got up and
tended to their animals or did housekeeping. Others had sex or just lay
in bed thinking, smoking a pipe, or gossiping with bedfellows. Benjamin
Franklin took ‘cold-air baths,’ reading naked in a chair. Our
conception of sleep as an unbroken block is so innate that it can seem
inconceivable that people only two centuries ago should have
experienced it so differently. Yet in an experiment at the National
Institutes of Health a decade ago, men kept on a schedule of 10 hours
of light and 14 hours of darkness — mimicking the duration of day and
night during winter — fell into the same, segmented pattern. They began
sleeping in two distinct, roughly four-hour stretches, with one to
three hours of somnolence — just calmly lying there — in between.
Some sleep disorders, namely waking up in the middle of the night and
not being able to fall asleep again, ‘may simply be this traditional
pattern, this normal pattern, reasserting itself,’ Ekirch told me.
‘It’s the seamless sleep that we aspire to that’s the anomaly, the
creation of the modern world.’”

Jon Mooallem, “The Sleep-Industrial Complex, New York Times Magazine, November 18, 2007

“There
seems little doubt that our sleep patterns have changed over the
centuries, partly in response to technology. Research by Virginia Tech
history professor A. Roger Ekirch suggests most western Europeans
before the industrial revolution enjoyed ‘segmented sleep’ – they woke
midway through the night to reflect on their dreams, smoke tobacco and
even visit neighbours.”

Peter Barber, “Snooze Function,” Financial Times (London), May 25, 2007

“Segmented
or fragmented sleep appears in early times to have been the rule
rather than exception, writes the American writer Walter Brown in a
fascinating article in Scientific American Mind (January
2007). He cites the research of the historian Roger Ekirch, who in
early literature discovered that before the invention of gaslight and
electricity, most people in the evening and at night slept in two
episodes. They called the episodes “first sleep” and “second sleep”. In
effect, most people after sunset went to sleep for four hours and then
woke up. They stayed awake a few hours and then went to sleep for four
hours until sunrise.  What did they do in the dark night hours?
Everything, according to the literature. Household tasks that could be
done by candlelight. Talk. Sometimes they even went to visit others.
The hours were also often used for prayer, contemplation and reflection
on the dreams of the first sleep. . . . Many people [today] awake in
the middle of the night and then lie and worry about their loss of
sleep. They try desperately to get back to sleep and even swallow
sleeping pills to sleep through the night. Maybe they should do what
their ancestors did: early to bed, awaken to do something useful or
pleasant, and after a few hours go back to bed for the second sleep.”
– Elsevier (Amsterdam), March 14, 2007

“A
recent discovery and a reexamination of some classic sleep literature
suggest that for some people the perfect eight hours of sleep remains
elusive for a very simple reason: our need for such uninterrupted
slumber may be nothing but a fairy tale. The source of this new assault
on conventional thinking comes not from a drug company lab or a
university research program but from a historian.”

Walter A. Brown, “Ancient Sleep
in Modern Time,” Scientific American Mind, December 2006/January 2007

“Recently
I had reason to think about varieties of sleep and dreams –
historians’ dreams of the past, writers’ dreams of their subject,
dreamers in the past. The occasion was a conference that included sleep
researchers in neuroscience; and the inspiration was a marvelous essay
on the history of sleep by the early modern historian A. Roger Ekirch.
It’s not a subject that comes naturally. Ekirch points out historians’
generic preference for vigorous actors: ‘our entire history is only the
history of waking men’. . . . Ekirch explicates this historical ‘bias’
in favour of active, animated
protagonists and against dull sleepers: ‘Whereas our waking hours are
animated, volatile, and highly differentiated, sleep appears, by
contrast,  passive, monotonous, and uneventful’”.

Christine Stansell, History Workshop Journal, Autumn 2006

“The
study fits what may be an ancient human pattern, according to findings
of historian A. Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.
“The dominant pattern in the Western world until the Industrial
Revolution was not seamless sleep, but segmented sleep,” he says.
Diaries and literary references going back to Homer referred to ‘first
sleep’ and ‘second sleep,’ each about four hours. In between, in the
dark of night, people would talk, use the chamber pot, slap at fleas
and lice, be on the alert for predators and have sex, he says.  Most
people’s real lives no longer allow for that human pattern of natural
sleep.” 

Susan Brink,  “After You Close Your Eyes,” Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2006

“Before
the invention of the electric light and the normalization of clock
time, humans slept quite differently.  In a review of Roger Ekirch’s At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime,
David Wooton notes how the sleep of our ancestors was divided each
night into two separate periods.  After the “first” sleep people woke,
read, talked, prayed, made love and so on.  Wooton observes that
‘everyone knew the difference between first and second sleep, and
no-one expected to sleep right through.’  By contrast, our own sleep,
mediated by artificial rhythms and technological stimulation, all too
often requires medicinal or narcotic supplements to get us through the
night.”

Simon Cooper, Arena Magazine (Victoria, Australia), June-July, 2006

“Everyone
who reads and writes about Ekirch’s book seems very taken by his
re-discovery of the fact that our notion of one continuous, seamless
nighttime sleep (leaving our people in our pictures and our teddy bears
free to play in peace) is just a modern trend and an artificial,
unnatural imposition against the wills of our bodies and minds.”

I. Warden, “Warden’s World,” Canberra Times, June 30, 2006

“The
discoveries of Ekirch and [Thomas] Wehr raise the possibility that
segmented sleep is ‘normal’ and, as such, these revelations hold
significant implications for both understanding sleep and the treatment
of insomnia.” 

Walter A. Brown, “Acknowledging
Preindustrial Patterns of Sleep May Revolutionize Approach to Sleep
Dysfunction,” Applied Neurology, May 2006.

“One of the many revelations in A. Roger Ekirch’s historical investigation of night-time, At Day’s Close,
is the demonstration that until the modern age, segmented sleep was
more common than the straight eight-hour stretch.  Premoderns used to go
to bed at nightfall for their “first sleep,” then rise again around or
after midnight for a tenebral intermezzo of reading, talking, sex, or,
if they were unlucky, household chores, before retiring again for 
another few hours of slumber.”
– Harry Eyres, Financial Times, May 13, 2006

“So here’s a question: Is the proverbial good night’s sleep really the Holy Grail of human well-being? In his 2005 book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past,
historian A.Roger Ekirch said no. He argued that the transition from
old-fashioned “segmented sleep” to today’s continuous sleep pattern
hasn’t helped mankind. ‘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,’ Ekirch wrote. Up until the invention of artificial
lighting, he noted, men and women went to bed earlier and woke up in
the middle of the night to smoke a pipe, make love, or analyze their
dreams. Now we sleep when we want to and fitfully, at best.”
– Alex Beam, “Perchance to Sleep,” Boston Globe, April 10, 2006

“A recent article by A. Roger Ekirch, a professor of history and author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past,
caught my eye.  In it he challenges the concepts of the patterns of
sleep which we now accept as normal. . . . We now find ourselves
battling against nature to get what we see as our rightful share of
sleep.  Forced into an unnatural sleep pattern, many people seek refuge
in the sedative effects of alcohol and hypnotics to restore this
artificial pattern may in fact just be a more natural form of segmented
sleep, just as nature intended. . . . So perhaps it’s time to
re-educate ourselves and our patients about what is ‘normal’ when it
comes to slumber.”

Muiris Houston, M.D., Medicine Weekly (Dublin), March 15, 2006

 “Sleep
patterns around the world have undergone a revolution over the past
two centuries as the spread of artificial lighting profoundly changed
the shape of human lives, first in cities and now even in many remote
villages. Throughout most of history sundown brought an end to the
activities in most homes, with people crawling into bed soon afterwards.
A. Roger Ekirch—author of a magisterial history of nighttime, At Day’s Close
(Norton)— argues that the very nature of a night’s rest has changed
since the Industrial Revolution. Sleep for our ancestors was often
divided into two shifts of roughly four hours, with a period of
wakefulness lasting an hour or longer in between. A study conducted by
the U.S. government’s National Institute of Mental Health appears to
confirm Ekirch’s thesis.”

Jay Walljasper, Ode Magazine, November 2005

“Ekirch’s research on nighttime led to the surprising discovery, laid out in his recent book, At Day’s Close: Night In Times Past,
about humanity’s frequent nightly pastime, sleep.  Ekirch learned
that, before artificial light, humans had a “first sleep” of two to
three hours, followed by a one- to two-hour long period of wakefulness
and then several more hours of sleep. He found references to this
pattern of segmented or broken sleep in numerous references, even the
Aeneid and Homer’s Odyssey. ‘So it was for hundreds, probably thousands
of years,’ he said. ‘Beginning in the late 17th century, segmented
slumber gradually grew less common’ with the increasing popularity of
artificial illumination and a goal of eight hours of uninterrupted
sleep.  This ‘altered circadian rhythms as old as humanity itself.’”

A.J. Hostetler, “Is the Nighttime
Losing its Identity,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 28, 2005

“But
surely sleep itself, when it did come, was just like our sleep, wasn’t
it? In one of the most fascinating sections of a fascinating book,
Ekirch demonstrates how differently our forebears slept their eight
hours a night. After “breeches-off” time, the “customary term for nine
o’ clock in parts of Germany,” the sleepers fell into their ‘first
sleep,’ which usually lasted till midnight or so. Then they roused to
urinate, have sex, mull over their dreams and share intimate
conversation with their spouses. The educated might use the time to
read and study by candlelight, while farmers might check on their
livestock and women might get up to ‘rock the cradle, also to card and
comb wool, to patch and to wash, to rub flax and reel yarn and peel
rushes.’ Others, industrious after a different fashion, found it a good
time to slip out and poach game, steal firewood, rob orchards and
perhaps practice magic. Most people, though, probably talked a while,
performed a task or two, and then slipped into their ‘second sleep’
till cock-crow. This two-part pattern of sleep is, Ekirch says, still
typical in the part of the world where artificial light has not
arrived.”

Andrew Hudgins, “Laughter in the Dark,” Raleigh News & Observer, July 31, 2005

“A
wonderful section, for example, describes the practice of segmented
sleep: before the industrial age, people often slept for a few hours
after dinner, then woke after midnight to engage in restful
contemplation and prayer, conversation or sex, and then resumed
sleeping until daybreak. ‘Regenerate man finds no time so fit to raise
his soul to Heaven, as when he awakes at mid-night,’ wrote the author
of ‘Mid-Night Thoughts” in 1682.’”

Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New York Times, July 24, 2005

“The
discussion of sleep patterns is especially interesting. ‘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,’ Ekirch writes.
People went to bed early and awoke around midnight. Some got up for
awhile; most probably lay in bed thinking, dozing, or talking with
their bedmate, before falling asleep for another four hours or so. This
interval of wakefulness may have boosted birth rates among the laboring
classes, Ekirch says.”

Fritz Lanham, “Nighttime as Fright Time,” Houston Chronicle, June 26, 2005

“Perhaps
the strangest revelation of Ekirch’s book is the fact that our
forebears, far from enjoying a dark night’s sleep uninterrupted by
neighbours’ security lights or car alarms, found themselves prey, not
only to shouts of ‘murder’ in the streets and fears of thieves or the
more spectral intruders of their imaginations, but also to waking
regularly at midnight – their rest being separated into ‘first sleep”
and “second sleep’. It was a habitual but natural division of the night
which only modern lighting would change (by keeping us awake until
late), and it is just one of the many facts in this engrossing book
that illuminate the darker recesses of the past.”

Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph (London), June 19, 2005

“We
no longer sleep as nature intended us to – in two major intervals of
sleep bridged by up to an hour or more of wakefulness, asserts Ekirch.
In the older age more attuned to inner clocks, not only was sleep
segmented but that fragmentation of sleep made us more responsive to
the our subconscious, he aver; people apparently awoke after midnight
and, instead of tossing and turning, they regularly got up to talk,
study, pray and do chores. The historian has dug up literary and
epistolary references to the so-called first sleep or primo somno and
the second sleep, which is sometimes referred to as ‘morning sleep’.
Worse, he warns that by substituting this episodic sleep with a
shorter, seamless slumber, we have committed a crime against nature. “By
turning night into day,” he writes, “modern technology has helped to
obstruct our oldest path to the human psyche.”

Lola Chantal, “Is ‘Wakeful’ Sleep More Soulful?” Economic Times (Mumbai), May 30, 2005

“Strikingly,
[Ekirch] addresses at length the once commonly accepted notion of
“first sleep,” an initial and distinct period of deep and restful
sleep that was fully expected to be followed by an interval of
wakefulness before the remainder of the night’s sleep, referred to as
“second sleep” or “morning sleep.” This pattern of sleep was widely
recognized, as is demonstrated by Ekirch’s compendious list of medical,
literary, and popular sources referencing the term in English, French,
and Italian from before the 13th century through the 19th century.
This was considered a normal and unproblematic sleep pattern. There is
no particular mention in print of waking in the middle of the night as
undesirable or pathologic. Quite the contrary, Ekirch located scores of
references in journals and diaries to the peacefulness and meditative
appeal of this waking period.”

Oskar G. Jenni and Bonnie B.
O’Connor, “Children’s Sleep: An Interplay between Culture and Biology,”
Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics,
January 2005

“Studies
of Western Europeans by historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University in Blacksburg show that “segmented
sleep” was a common practice of rural and urban people 200-55 years
ago.”

Tim Batchelder, “The Cultural
Biology of Sleep,” Townshend Letter for Doctors and Patients, July
2002

“But
there is magic, too, in the unlit night, a loosening of the temporal
and physical boundaries that bind us by day.  Ekirch uncovered multiple
references to ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’ in historical records;
he theorizes that once we slept in two roughly equal interludes, split
by a period of quiet wakefulness in which dreams were contemplated and
prayers offered.  This creative window closed gradually during the 19th
century, as gas lamps became common and human sleep patterns
consolidated.” 
– Kate Terwilliger, Denver Post, April 6, 2001

“One
of Ekirch’s discoveries surprised him: in the pre-electric centuries,
people slept differently. We assume it is normal to slumber more or
less continuously through the night. We think of wakefulness as a
disorder–insomnia. And common sense suggests that, without electric
lights, our preindustrial ancestors must have slept from sunset to
sunrise. But Ekirch has found that was not so. Preindustrial people’s
sleep was segmented. They might lie an hour or more before falling
asleep. About four hours later, they would awaken. For another hour or
so, they would lie meditating on their dreams or praying. They would
talk with bedmates. They might even visit neighbors, similarly awake.
They might pilfer or poach. Then they would sleep another four hours or
so. People, as a matter of course, routinely referred to their first
sleep and their second sleep.”

Joyce and Richard Wolkomir, Smithsonian, January 2001

“Our
ancestors, living before electric lighting, probably didn’t get that
sleep all at once. Waking with the sun and retiring for the day when
darkness fell, they had plenty of time in bed, and historian A. Roger
Ekirch of Virginia Tech has found that they slept in two segments.
References as far back as Virgil and Homer called it ‘first sleep’ and
‘second sleep.’ In between was an hour or two of quiet wakefulness that
our ancestors sometimes called ‘the watch.’ It was a time to ponder
dreams and plot wars.”

Susan Brink, “Sleepless Society,” U.S. New and World Report, October 8, 2000.

“In
other times, what is more, people may have slept differently. Roger
Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Polytechnic in the US, is
currently finishing a book about nocturnal British life between 1500
and 1850. He has discovered ‘hundreds’ of references, he says, in
people’s diaries and letters and court statements, to sleeping routines
that now sound quite alien. ‘Most households,’ he says, ‘experienced a
pattern of broken sleep.’ People went to bed at nine or 10. They
awakened after midnight, after what they called their ‘first sleep’
stayed conscious for an hour, and then had their ‘morning sleep’. The
interlude was a haven for reflection, remembering dreams, having sex,
or even night-time thievery. The poorest, Ekirch says, were the
greatest beneficiaries, fleetingly freed from the constraints and
labours that ruled their daytime existence. By the 17th century, as
artificial light became more common, the rich were already switching to
the more concentrated – and economically efficient – mode of
recuperation that we follow today. The industrial revolution pushed back
the dusk for everyone except pockets of country-dwellers.”

Andy Beckett, Guardian, August 10, 1999

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