I used to aim for 8 hours of sleep a night, as I was always told I should. I remember the revelation of being in Europe and feeling so much healthier, happier and enthusiastic after only 6 hours of broken sleep in hostel rooms. Sleep is something misunderstood and overly regimented in our North American, corporate-driven society. I don’t doubt that, centuries from now, our generation’s attitude will be looked upon as ridiculous the same way we laugh at medieval “medical” quackery.
Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.
“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.
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.