“Good night – may you fall asleep in the arms of a dream,
so beautiful, you’ll cry when you awake.”
Michael Faudet, Author of “Dirty Pretty Things.
Do you sometimes fall into a deep sleep and several hours later, wake again? Maybe it’s your bladder calling, or a glass of water or a sound, but sometimes, it’s none of these. That happened to me last night from a deep sleep, I was suddenly awake. And being wide awake, I began to think about Roger Ekrich, a historian who had long been fascinated by this phenomenon.
He had been researching for a book about night- time, when one day in the early 1900s he walked into the Public Record Office in London where he found a deposition by the daughter of a woman brutally murdered in 1699.
As Ekrich read the daughter’s testimony he was struck by a few words – she and her mother had arisen from their first sleep of the evening. There was no further explanation- the interrupted sleep was stated matter of factly, as if it were entirely unremarkable. “She referred to it as though it was utterly normal.” says Ekrich.
As he read this he pondered: a first sleep implies a second sleep. Was this normal at that time?
Over the coming months, Ekirch scoured the archives and found many more references to this mysterious phenomenon of double sleeping, or “biphasic sleep” as he later called it.
Most were fairly banal, but others such as that of Luke Atkinson of the East Riding of Yorkshire. were anything but banal. According to his wife “He managed to squeeze in an early morning murder between his sleeps one night, and often used the time to frequent other people’s houses for sinister deeds“
Ekirch found casual references to the system of twice-sleeping in every conceivable form, with hundreds in letters, diaries, medical textbooks, philosophical writings, newspaper articles and plays.
And he also found this biphasic sleep was not to unique to England. “it was widely practised throughout the preindustrial world. In France, the initial sleep was the “premier somme“; in Italy, it was “primo sonno“. In fact, Eckirch found evidence of the habit in locations as distant as Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Australia, South America and the Middle East.
As Ekirch explains in his book, At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime, people would often just stay in bed and chat. And during those strange twilight hours, bedfellows could share a level of informality and casual conversation that was hard to achieve during the day.
So next time it happens to you, think you are not alone. No doubt it’s happening to others close to you and perhaps at the same time.
Source – BBC Future – The Forgotten Way Medieval People Slept.
For more on this fascinating subject
“Sunsets are the prelude to another beautiful day.
And whatever happens the sun will rise tomorrow”.
Judith Baxter, Blogger, Mother, Grandmother and Friend
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So until the next time –