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Sleeping Ancestors

Who Knew?

Our ancestors, especially those before the dawn of the 20th century had a different method of getting their needed rest. A night would have been 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of one to three hours, then sleep again until morning. Everyone did a two-sleep cycle. There are references in vintage diaries, books, and other records of “First Sleep” and “Second Sleep”. So what did people do between the two sleep periods. Those who knew how to read used that quiet time to read papers or books and write letters or in their diaries. A very popular practice was to say their prayers or read religious writings. It was also a time for a couple to do some snuggling and smooching.

sleepingIf a person left the bedroom during this time they might start or finish up some chores in the house. Some were known to have prearranged visits between neighbors also.

This very common practice was because there was no electric lights, no street lights and when it became dark, people relaxed and retired to bed, about 8 or 8:30 pm. They would awaken about 1 am or 2 stay up a couple hours and then return to sleep and awaken at dawn. Once the use of electric lights was more common, that pattern slowly changed, especially by 1900. Areas, especially rural areas without electricity even in the 1920s, still tended to follow the two-sleep cycle.

Patterns changed in the 20th century to people sleeping 7 to 8 hours straight. without awakening for an extended period of time. They did more evening and early night activities, parties, shows and then retired to bed about 11 pm. With more modern technology and activities such as television, people have gotten less and less sleep.

So did our ancestors have the right idea all along to get enough rest, using the traditional two-sleep cycle? Sometimes there are things to be learned and even used in the 21st century.

Photo: 1900 bedding styles.

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