I am one of those people who can fall asleep almost anywhere at almost any time, even on planes. But in addition to such naps, I also value getting a good continuous night’s rest, which is usually conceived of as about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
So I was surprised by this report of a study that said that that might not be optimum, that two segments of four hours separated by wakefulness of an hour or two may be more natural. Apparently, records of lifestyles before the modern era suggested that this was common practice.
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. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.
And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.
A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”.
Since there is an average of 11 hours of darkness, this pattern pretty much covers that period, which might have been convenient when there was no electricity.
The practice apparently started to fade by the dawn of the 18th century.