A lot of things or behaviours that we take for granted and, most certainly beneficial for ourselves, might have been invented by us. Or at least, by people before us that imposed a point of view or tried to spread a fact they profoundly believed in. That would be the case for many things that we accept in our daily lives. In our case here, it’s even the case for the way we sleep.
It is three in the morning and you set the alarm clock, eyes wide open, mind alert. No, you’re not an insomniac. Nothing more normal, even. For the night, eight hours in one go is not a requirement, or even normal. Before the end of the seventeenth century, it was simply not the case, assure the historian Roger Ekirch. In ‘At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past’, he studied the sleep habits of our ancestors of the pre-modern era (1500-1750): diaries, minutes of hearings, novels and medical books mention the normal practice of one night in two stages. A first break after dinner, then the experience of a two waking hours around midnight, and then a new sleep time before morning. They even mentioned that it was mostly common at that time. That night separate in 2 ‘sessions’ seems to have been the norm for many centuries and, even, around the world. According to Ekirch, it corresponds to a natural sleep pattern. Waking hours in the middle of the night for a rest time is supposed to release stress. The early diagnosis of insomnia were not introduced until the late nineteenth century, after the widespread adoption of “full night”. What our ancestors did during their waking hours in the middle of the night? They prayed, ate, made sex, read, discussed, rested. Many prayer books of the fifteenth century offer special forms of devotion to that moment, says Ekirch. A French doctor of the sixteenth century assure him that this is the best time to conceive. And the widespread use of lighting in streets and homes turned nocturnal use. In affluent urban areas of northern Europe, we have fun in the light of candles and lamps. The references in the first and second sleep started to disappear in the late seventeenth century. Two hundred years later, the practise completely disappeared.
So, we shape our habits but sometimes, we don’t recall why. Or we don’t want to know why. What do you have in mind that you do and you don’t know really why it happens as such?