How much do you know about the lives that your ancestors lived?
Many of us know their names and, if we are lucky, we have dates, professions and stories about our distant ancestors. However, many questions still remain. There are some essential day-to-day activities of our ancestors that we may know little or nothing about.
Take sleep, for example. We can assume that our grandparents sleeping patterns were similar to ours. But what about our grandparents’ grandparents, and our grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents?
According to a recent article in Slumberwise, our ancestors slept very differently from how we sleep today. According to research, in the early 20th century, it was less common to have one long nighttime sleep, and most people had two nighttime sleeps.
Roger Ekirch, professor of history at Virginia Tech, was the first to discover that people used to sleep in two large chunks.
In his research, he found that over a 12-hour period, people would sleep for 3-4 hours, wake for a couple of hours, and then sleep again until morning. His research stems from literature, court documents, personal papers and more, and appears to be the accepted sleep pattern until the early 1900s.
“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” says Ekirch.
Among many examples backing up this theory is Chaucer, who describes a character’s first and second sleeps in Canterbury Tales. Another example is an English doctor who wrote that the ideal time for study and contemplation was between “first sleep” and “second sleep.”
Being very religious, most would use the time to pray or reflect, to read or to interact with family. Religious manuals included special prayers to say in the mid-sleep hours.
If this was the common practice, why don’t we still sleep in two shifts? When did this change?
Ekirch believes that this practice died out shortly after the turn of the 20th century, after the invention of street lights and later electric indoor lighting. When street lights became more prevalent, spending time at night became less dangerous, and the streets at nights were no longer dominated by criminals. People began socializing or working into the night, and the concept of two sleeps disappeared.
What surprising things have you discovered about how your ancestors lived? Share your comments below.