Did People Have Two Sleeps A Night Historically?

Did People Have Two Sleeps A Night Historically?

This is a neat article from BBC News today that goes over the evidence that people throughout history used to take two 4-hour sleeps per night, instead of a straight 8-hour stretch like today.  The theory is that in a time with little civil protection (i.e. police), there was no benefit to being out and about after hours:

“Even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night.”

The theory is that humans slept for 4 hours soon after dusk and awoke for an hour or two around midnight before falling asleep for another 4 hours.

“During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed.”

The Industrial Revolution’s change to more rigid and efficient schedules, combined with modern electricity changed this to our modern 8-hour stretch.  It’s neat seeing how the way we structure our day is very much a modern construct. Even our Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 is new. In ancient Rome, for example, time was divided in two very different ways.  First, there were festival days (and thus, days off) and non-festival days (work days).  Second, there was the agricultural season (work days) and the non-agricultural season (days off).

The full article, with some of the supporting evidence, is here: [BBC News]

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Image | This entry was posted in 20th Century, Ancient Times, European History, Family Life, Medieval History, Modern History, New Research and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Did People Have Two Sleeps A Night Historically?

  1. tkmorin says:

    Wow, that’s pretty interesting, I must say! Thank you for the post. 🙂

  2. itwasjudith says:

    I’m not an historian, so my statement is solely based upon my own observation. I think that the modern “system”, probably starting with the industrial revolution, brought about dramatic changes to people’s lifestyle – i.e. the move from a rural society based on nature and its seasons, to city crammed accommodation and shifts in factories that displaced people from their familiar and domestic environment. I think this can still be observed today – clearly not with factory work anymore but rather with office jobs and services – there is a governing “tyranny” on our schedules. At times I resent the rigid schemes in which we are funnelled, and the rat race we live almost daily. (sorry for the closing rant!) Great post, thanks for sharing!

    • I loved your description of the ‘tyranny on our schedules’! It’s funny, pre-industrialized humans would have been constantly anxious about ruin, lack of food, disease, and death. We have done so much to improve this in the modern Western world but instead are just as anxious and stressed over our modern hectic and rigid schedules.

      • itwasjudith says:

        I wrote a lengthy reply to your interesting observation, but the silly script used in the CSM just erased it a split second before I hit Reply 😦 sorry, I can’t rewrite it all.. not at this time of the night, my brain is not able to re-play it all =)

      • No worries, whatsoever!! Sorry to hear that I missed a good reply!! I’ll just have to post more so that you can comment another day. 🙂

      • itwasjudith says:

        that’s a deal 🙂 now off to have a wee sleep, it’s past 5am local time..

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