We have to admit that sometimes we get a bit envious of preschoolers. As much as they protest taking naps, they always seem to doze off so peacefully. What we wouldn’t give to have a second chance every day to catch up on some sleep! But little did we know, evidence suggests that this used to be the norm for humans — even adults.
As The Conversation reported, there have been several historical and medical records from centuries ago referencing a “first sleep” and a “second sleep.” These references have also been found in diaries and even court records. (Can you imagine? “Your Honor, during my second sleep…”) One historian, A. Roger Ekirch, explored this phenomenon in his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past ($14.58, Amazon), noting that in the days of pre-industrial Europe, it was pretty normal for people to sleep two separate times. Many experts today call it “segmented” sleep — and no, we don’t mean waking up six times a night with a newborn.
However, this adult segmented sleep wasn’t exactly like a preschooler’s luxurious naptime, either. It wasn’t necessarily something that was scheduled; instead, people chose to do it based on whether they had things to do or if they simply felt like sneaking a little more “me time” in. Ekirch wrote that households usually retired a couple hours after the sun went down, woke up for a few hours after that, and then had a second snooze until the sun rose.
While the prospect of waking up in the middle of the night might sound absolutely horrendous today, Ekirch’s description of the past sounds lovely: During the period in which these people were awake, they’d take time to relax, sew, read, and think about their dreams. Huh! Considering how many people today have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, this doesn’t sound like half bad of a deal. It’s little wonder that even renowned author Charles Dickens mentioned a “first sleep” in one of his famous books in 1840.
Interestingly enough, The Conversation points out that after mentions of “first” and “second” sleeps started disappearing from text, mentions of sleep maintenance and insomnia started popping up in books in the late 19th century. Hmm… why doesn’t that surprise us?
We don’t know about you, but we’re more than ready to bring back segmented sleep — if not in our real day-to-day lives, then at least during our next vacation. Who’s with us?
Love the idea, but it’s just not realistic for you? Here are 10 other genius ways to have a better sleep tonight:
h/t Science Alert
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