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[Health] How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?
#1
How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?
How our ancestors used to sleep can help the sleep-deprived today

By Katie Hunt, CNN

Updated 8:54 AM ET, Sun January 9, 2022

(CNN)Like many people, historian A. Roger Ekirch thought that sleep was a biological constant -- that eight hours of rest a night never really varied over time and place.

But while researching nocturnal life in preindustrial Europe and America, he discovered the first evidence that many humans used to sleep in segments -- a first sleep and second sleep with a break of a few hours in between to have sex, pray, eat, chat and take medicine.

"Here was a pattern of sleep unknown to the modern world," said Ekirch, a university distinguished professor in the department of history at Virginia Tech.

Ekirch's subsequent book, "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past," unearthed more than 500 references to what's since been termed biphasic sleep. Ekirch has now found more than 2,000 references in a dozen languages and going back in time as far as ancient Greece. His 2004 book will be republished in April.

The practice of sleeping through the whole night didn't really take hold until just a few hundred years ago, his work suggested. It only evolved thanks to the spread of electric lighting and the Industrial Revolution, with its capitalist belief that sleep was a waste of time that could be better spent working.

The history of sleep not only reveals fascinating details about everyday life in the past, but the work of Ekirch, and other historians and anthropologists, is helping sleep scientists gain fresh perspective on what constitutes a good night's sleep. It also offers new ways to cope with and think about sleep problems.

There is value in knowing about this prior pattern of sleep in the Western world. "A large number of people who today suffer from middle-of-the-night insomnia, the primary sleep disorder in the United States -- and I dare say in most industrialized countries -- rather than experiencing a quote unquote, disorder, are in fact, experiencing a very powerful remnant, or echo of this earlier pattern of sleep," Ekirch said.

Myth of 8-hour sleep?
The first reference to biphasic sleep Ekirch found was in a 1697 legal document from a traveling "Assizes" court buried in a London record office. The deposition of a 9-year-old girl called Jane Rowth mentioned that her mother awoke after her "first sleep" to go out. The mother was later found dead.

"I had never heard the expression, and it was expressed in such a way that it seemed perfectly normal," he said. "I then began to come across subsequent references in these legal depositions but also in other sources."

Ekirch subsequently found multiple references to a "first" and "second" sleep in diaries, medical texts, works of literature and prayer books. A doctor's manual from 16th century France advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day but "after the first sleep," when "they have more enjoyment" and "do it better."

By the early 19th century, however, the first sleep had begun to expand at the expense of the second sleep, Ekirch found, and the intervening period of wakefulness. By the end of the century, the second sleep was little more than turning over in one's bed for an extra 10 minutes of snoozing.

Ben Reiss, author of "Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World" and professor and chair of the English department at Emory University in Atlanta, blames the Industrial Revolution and the "sleep is for wimps" attitude it engendered.
"The answer is really to follow the money. Changes in economic organization, when it became more efficient to routinize work and have large numbers of people showing up on factory floors, at the same time and doing as much work in as concentrated fashion as possible," Reiss said.

Our sleep schedule got squeezed and consolidated as a result, Reiss said.

No golden age
However, preindustrial life was no halcyon era when our ancestors went about their day well rested and rejuvenated, untroubled by insomnia or other sleep problems, effortlessly in sync with the cycle of night and day, weather patterns and seasons, according to Sasha Handley, a professor of history at The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. She studies how families optimized their sleep in Britain, Ireland and England's American colonies between 1500 and 1750.
"Every discussion of sleep history seemed to center around the sort of watershed moment of industrialization, the coming of electricity ruining everybody's sleep lives. The corollary of that is that anything preindustrial was imagined as this golden age of sleep."

Handley said her research suggested, just like today, sleep was linked to physical and mental health and was a topic that people worried about and obsessed over.

Doctor's manuals from the time are full of advice on how many hours to sleep and in what kind of posture, she said. The reference guides also list hundreds of sleep recipes to aid a good night's sleep, she said. These include the bizarre -- cutting a pigeon in half and sticking each half to each side of your head and the more familiar -- bathing in camomile-infused water and using lavender. People also burned specific types of wood in their bed chambers that were thought to aid sleep.

"For our period, sleep is very strongly linked to digestion, emotion, stomach, and therefore to people's diets," Handley said.
Doctors advised sleepers to rest first on the right side of their body before turning to the left side during the second half of the night. Resting on the right, perhaps during the first sleep, was thought to allow food to reach the pit of the stomach, where it was digested. Turning to the left, cooler side, released vapors and spread the heat evenly through the body.
It's thought this habit could be the origin of the phrase about getting out of bed on the wrong side.

Not all scholars believe that sleeping in two shifts, while perhaps common in some communities, was once a universal habit. Far from it, said Brigitte Steger, a senior lecturer in Japanese studies at the University of Cambridge in the UK, who didn't uncover any references to segmented sleep in her work on sleep habits in Japan.

"There is no such thing as natural sleep. Sleep has always been cultural, social and ideological," said Steger, who is working on a series of six books about the cultural history of sleep.

"There is not such a clear-cut difference between premodern (or pre-industrial) and modern sleep habits," she said via email.

"And sleep habits throughout pre-industrial times and throughout the world have always changed. And, of course, there has always been social diversity, and sleep habits have been very different at court than for peasants, for instance."

Similarly, Gerrit Verhoeven, an assistant professor in cultural heritage and history at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, said his study of criminal court records from 18th century Antwerp suggested that sleep habits weren't so different to our own today. Seven hours of sleep was the norm and there was no mention of first or second sleep.

"As a historian I'm concerned that arguments about alleged sleeping patterns in the past -- prolonged, by-phasic and with napping during the day -- are sometimes presented as a possible remedy for our modern sleeping disorders. Before drawing such conclusions, we have to do much more research about these early modern sleeping patterns," he said.
Sleepster

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#2
RE: How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?
(01-09-2022, 01:27 PM)Sleepster Wrote: "As a historian I'm concerned that arguments about alleged sleeping patterns in the past -- prolonged, by-phasic and with napping during the day -- are sometimes presented as a possible remedy for our modern sleeping disorders.

Given that the prevalence of sleeping disorders increases with age, I suspect that a pre-industrial typical lifespan of, say, 35 years, would also reduce the prevalence of these disorders in society.

BW, DS
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#3
RE: How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?
Since earlier civilizations had much access to food, I'm guessing obesity was less common.
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#4
RE: How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?
(01-09-2022, 02:00 PM)desaturator Wrote: Given that the prevalence of sleeping disorders increases with age, I suspect that a pre-industrial typical lifespan of, say, 35 years, would also reduce the prevalence of these disorders in society.

BW, DS

Actually life-SPAN -- as opposed to life-EXPECTANCY is not much longer today.

In pre-industrial societies what reduced the AVERAGE life-expectancy was overwhelmingly about infant mortality. The rule of thumb for demographers is to look at life-expectancy at age 5 vs at birth.

A life-expectancy-at-birth of 35 years does not represent most people keeling over of old age at 35 -- it's an average, with death at 35 being pretty rare. 

Reaching a "ripe old age" was plenty common, even though not as common as in modern times.

And it is also clear that "old" came somewhat earlier.

But, anyway, there have been plenty of people dealing with all of the typical maladies of old age throughout all of human history.
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#5
RE: How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?
(01-10-2022, 01:24 AM)cathyf Wrote: In pre-industrial societies what reduced the AVERAGE life-expectancy was overwhelmingly about infant mortality. The rule of thumb for demographers is to look at life-expectancy at age 5 vs at birth.

A life-expectancy-at-birth of 35 years does not represent most people keeling over of old age at 35 -- it's an average, with death at 35 being pretty rare.

According to [1] the average life expancy of a women _at 15 years of age_ was 48.2 years between 1480 and 1679. It doesn't increase very much until the industrial revolution. I believe men show roughly the same pattern because, although they aren't subject to the horrors of pre-industrial childbirth, they have instead the scourge of war. In an event, according to [2] OSA (with AHI > 15) is rare (~2%) in women up to 64 years of age, but somewhat more common (~11%) in men at the same age.

I think this shows three things:

1. While there would have been people over 60 years old in pre-industrial society, there would have been far fewer than we now see, so
2. even allowing for infant mortality, relatively few people in pre-industrial society would have lived long enough to be singificantly concerned with sleep-related breathing disorders and,
3. I should get out more.

Best wishes, DS


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2625386/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2645248/
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