First sleep and second sleep – the good old days?

thumbnailCAMSX2KEI got 7 ½ hours last night and almost always get from 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. I have been thinking about how people sleep today versus throughout human history. Full disclosure – one of our clients Tempur-Pedic is a highly successful manufacturer of mattresses but they know nothing (and are not the least bit concerned) of my blog posts.

What got me thinking about the history of sleep was something I read not long ago about Ben Franklin and sleeping during the time of the American Revolution. Apparently there was a ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’. Such that people would get up after sleeping for several hours in the middle of the night and be awake for some period of time prior to going back to sleep after sleep halftime.

From Wikipedia – Segmented sleep, divided sleep, bimodal sleep pattern and interrupted sleep are modern Western terms for a polyphasic or biphasic sleep pattern found in medieval and early modern Europe and many non-industrialized societies today, where the night’s sleep is divided by one or more periods of wakefulness. This is particularly common in the winter. Maybe they were talking about NFL coaches who seemingly sleep in their offices in season.

Because members of modern industrialized societies, with late hours facilitated by electric lighting, no longer have this sleep pattern, they may misinterpret and mistranslate references to it in literature. Common interpretations of the term ‘first sleep’ are ‘beauty sleep’ and ‘early slumber’. A reference to first sleep in the Odyssey was translated as such in the 17th century, but universally mistranslated in the 20th.

Far be it for me to get into things like REM (Rapid Eye Movement), Circadian rhythms, and dreams (I will leave that to Aristotle and Freud), but it is interesting to me that in all of human history only over the last 200 years (gas lighting came into practice in 1807) or so have humans sleep habits dramatically changed. It seems to me that many people do not value sleep as much as they should. The health benefits of a good night’s sleep are fairly well documented. It also helps make people less cranky (maybe President Obama should mandate sleep for Congress as they seem particularly cranky although it might be due to them getting too much sleep in House and Senate sessions).

But the notion of a true ‘first sleep’ with an ‘awake’ period in between and a ‘second sleep’ is foreign to me and, I would imagine, most people. I wonder how Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan ‘slept’. Did they get their 8 hours? Rampaging and pillages is very tiring after all. Maybe it is that since there was so much less to do at night before the advent of electricity, sleep was valued more as a pastime? After all, until recently people did not have Facebook to keep them up at night.

How about you – do you have a nightly targeted sleep amount? And are you cranky when you don’t get it?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver
This entry was posted in Living in the World Today and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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