• “Segmented Sleep,” Harper’s, August 2013, 35-37.
• How Much Sleep Do You Really Need," May 5, 2013, Huffington Post
•“Why Do We Get Insomnia?” The Why Factor, BBC World Service, Mar. 22, 2013
• “Sleep,” The Why Factor, BBC World Service, Mar. 15, 2013
• "Zzzzzzs the Day,” April 28-29, 2012, Wall Street Journal
•“Nineteenth-Century Sleep Violence Cases,” Dec 2011, Sleep Medicine Clinics
•“Supernatural Terrors Tamed,” Aug. 1, 2010, New York Times
•"Violence in the Land of Sleep,” Mar. 23, 2010, New York Times
•"Dreams Deferred,” Feb. 19, 2006, New York Times
"Sleep We Have Lost"
“We are built to wake up after a few hours of sleep and be up and running for a while at night. Until the 1850s people slept in two shifts and were awake a couple of hours in between, says Torbjörn Åkerstedt [Director, Stress Research Institute, Stockholm.] Before the light bulb we went to bed at eight o'clock and woke up a few hours later to be on the go for a while….The idea that one should sleep eight hours without interruption, in other words, is a new invention which is colored by our values ??and modern lifestyle….The evidence suggests that we slept two shifts sleep until the Industrial Revolution. In 2001, the historian Roger Ekirch at Virginia Tech published a study based on 16 years of research that yielded strong historical evidence that we are biologically designed to sleep in two shifts.”
- Isabelle Ståhl, Expressen, Stockholm, August 3, 2013.
“Research by the American historian Roger Ekirch has revealed that the habit of sleeping in a single eight-hour block is fairly recent. Until 150 years ago we slept quite differently.”
- Martinique Still, M.D., “Science of Sleep,” Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg, August 2, 2013.
“Professor Philippa Gander, director of the Sleep/Wake Research Centre, based at Massey University in Wellington, says there is growing interest in the idea that what we conceive of as normal and healthy – eight hours of solid sleep a night – is an artefact of artificial lighting. . . . An historian told the Baltimore sleep conference that the idea of two sleeps crops up often in old literature. ‘All the way back to the Greeks they talk about first sleep and second sleep,’ Gander says. About the time of the Industrial Revolution, and the advent of cheap artificial light, ‘there started to be a whole popular movement against the evils of the second sleep. It was a time for lasciviousness and laziness and all that sort of thing, and ‘real people got out of bed and got on with waking things.’ Waking in the middle of the night is now a common complaint, often diagnosed as insomnia. About 20% of people prescribed sleeping pills will pop them at that point. ‘The implication is that quite a large proportion of people may be taking sleeping pills for no good reason other than to try to cover up their natural pattern,’ Gander says. ‘One of the questions that was being discussed in that symposium is: are we making a big mistake here? Is that just people who have a normal sleep pattern and they shouldn’t be worried about it?’
- Catherine Woulfe, New Zealand Listener, July 27, 2013.
“If [Norbert] Elias casts important light on the ‘civilizing’ or ‘privatizing’ or ‘sequestration’ of sleeping bodies over the centuries, Ekirch enriches and emboldens the picture through a series of extraordinary insights into the ‘segmented’ slumber of preindustrial times. Sleep, in short, may have been no idyll in the past, and the quality of our sleep may have grown appreciably since this time, but we may also have lost something vital in the process.”
– Simon J. Williams, Sleep and Society: Sociological Ventures into the Unknown (Routledge, 2013).
“One of the first signs that the emphasis on a straight eight-hour sleep had outlived its usefulness arose in the early 1990s, thanks to a history professor at Virginia Tech named A. Roger Ekirch, who spent hours investigating the history of the night and began to notice strange references to sleep. A character in the “Canterbury Tales,” for instance, decides to go back to bed after her “firste sleep.” A doctor in England wrote that the time between the “first sleep” and the “second sleep” was the best time for study and reflection. And one 16th-century French physician concluded that laborers were able to conceive more children because they waited until after their “first sleep” to make love.”
- David K. Randall, “Rethinking Sleep,” New York Times, Sept. 22, 2012
“This bimodal sleep has been observed in many other animals. One such creature turns out to be pre-industrial man. Only recently have anthropologists and historians scrutinized the sleep of other cultures, earlier centuries and prehistoric humans. In the remarkably informative At Day's Close, Night in Times Past, Roger Ekirch unveils nocturnal life in the pre-industrial west.”
- Paul Spector, M.D., “Why You Might Have Trouble Sleeping,” Huffington Post, Sept. 21, 2012
“Some researchers are now questioning the idea of a long uninterrupted sleep, says David N. Neubauer, MD, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. There's some evidence to show that in darker, earlier times, before LEDs or wall sconces, people tended to sleep in two phases. ‘Sleep historians like A. Roger Ekirch have found that people would sleep deeply for half the night, get up and do things for an hour or so, then fall back to sleep for a few more hours,’ says Neubauer. ”
- Corrie Pikul, “Sleep Myths You Can Ignore,” Oprah.com, Sept. 17, 2012
“So why is sleep, which seems so simple, becoming so problematic? Much of the problem can be traced to the revolutionary device that's probably hanging above your head right now: the light bulb. Before this electrically illuminated age, our ancestors slept in two distinct chunks each night. The so-called first sleep took place not long after the sun went down and lasted until a little after midnight. A person would then wake up for an hour or so before heading back to the so-called second sleep. . . . It was a fact of life that was once as common as breakfast—and one which might have remained forgotten had it not been for the research of a Virginia Tech history professor named A. Roger Ekirch, who spent nearly 20 years in the 1980s and '90s investigating the history of the night.”
- David K. Randall, “Decoding the Science of Sleep,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 3, 2012
“More interesting still, the historian Roger Ekirch has done some fascinating research which suggests that before the advent of artificial light in the industrial revolution, humans typically slept in two phases: after dark, they slept for a few hours, but then woke to engage in some activities – before later retiring again for a “second sleep”. And some medical researchers and historians think that this segmented pattern might actually be more beneficial than the modern “consolidated” – or “monophasic” – ideal of seven straight hours, or the model which is now championed by western doctors or self-help books.”
- Gillian Tett, “Sleeping on the Job,” Financial Times, June 22, 2012
“In 2001, the historian Roger Ekirch, of Virginia Tech, published a seminal paper, after 16 years of research, which revealed that humans used to have two sleeps, with a period of wakefulness in-between. His book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, published in 2005, gives more than 500 references to segmented sleep taken from diaries, medical books, court records and literature. References to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late-17th century - a shift Ekirch attributes to improvements in street lighting and an increasingly time-conscious sensitivity to efficiency. Sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs argues that night waking is "part of normal physiology" and that trying to sleep in a consolidated block may be damaging if it makes people anxious.”
- Jessica Jonzen, “On the Trail of the Elusive Big Sleep,” London Times, June 19, 2012
“In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. His book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern - in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer's Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria. . . .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. A doctor's manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day's labour but ‘after the first sleep’, when ‘they have more enjoyment’ and ‘do it better’. Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society. By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness. He attributes the initial shift to improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses - which were sometimes open all night. As the night became a place for legitimate activity and as that activity increased, the length of time people could dedicate to rest dwindled. Today, most people seem to have adapted quite well to the eight-hour sleep, but Ekirch believes many sleeping problems may have roots in the human body's natural preference for segmented sleep as well as the ubiquity of artificial light. This could be the root of a condition called sleep maintenance insomnia, where people wake during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, he suggests. The condition first appears in literature at the end of the 19th Century, at the same time as accounts of segmented sleep disappear. ' For most of evolution we slept a certain way,' says sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs. 'Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology. The idea that we must sleep in a consolidated block could be damaging, he says, if it makes people who wake up at night anxious, as this anxiety can itself prohibit sleeps and is likely to seep into waking life too. Russell Foster, a professor of circadian [body clock] neuroscience at Oxford, shares this point of view. ' Many people wake up at night and panic,' he says. ' I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.' "
- Stephanie Hegarty, “The Myth of the Eight-Hour Sleep,” BBC News Magazine, February 22, 2012
“The magazine cites research, including a paper by historian Roger Ekirch at Virginia Tech, who after 16 years of study found a bundle of evidence – in diaries, court documents and literature – that humans naturally used to divide their sleep in two, often waking up in the middle for a couple hours. In the middle wake-up, Dr. Ekirch reports, people might stay in bed, read or write, go out and visit neighbours, or even partake in some middle-of-the-night canoodling. (The research uncovered a doctor’s manual from 16th-century France that recommended couples trying to conceive had the best chance between after the 'first sleep,' as it was called.) In the 19th century, the notion of the first and second sleep began to lose favour, and by the 1920s, the pattern had pretty much vanished – snuffed out with the advent of street lighting and a surge of coffee houses, and as the amount of time people had available for lying around in bed either sleeping, or in between, shortened. But Dr. Ekirch’s argument, as the BBC explains, is that while most people have adapted to one long sleep, many sleep problems may be attributed to going against the natural preference for sleeping in segments.”
-Erin Anderson, “Not Getting Steady Shut-Eye? Don’t Lose Sleep Over It,” Globe and Mail (Montreal), February 22, 2012
“The prevailing belief that a good night consists of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is perhaps completely wrong. . . .The British historian Roger Ekirch has delved into books and material from Homer's Odyssey to anthropological studies of Nigerian tribes to write his book: At Day's Close: Night in Times Past. . . . Roger Ekirch’s theory is backed by various researchers - among others, the renowned psychiatrist Thomas Alvin Wehr. He performed in the 1990s a study in which he showed that segmented sleep is apparently a natural sleep rhythm.”
- Esben Larsen Mikkelsen, “Tvivl om den gode nattesøvn,” Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten (Viby, Denmark), February 22, 2012
“Scientists have long argued over whether we need eight consecutive hours of sleep per night, and a look back through history seems to indicate that we may not. According to the BBC, Virginia Tech historian Roger Ekirch promotes the theory that humans have historically snoozed in two distinct chunks, broken up by an hour or two of alertness. Ekirch poured over 'diaries, court records, medical books and literature' to back up his belief in segmented sleep. Compelling evidence includes a 16th-century doctor's manual advising couples that the best time to conceive is 'after the first sleep. . . when they have more enjoyment [and] do it better.'"
- MSNBC.com, February 22, 2012
“Sleeping eight hours a night is the advice that we hear most often. Ask parents, friends and even doctors, who are worried because we are stressed or weakened. But they could be wrong. Indeed there is a myth to dispel that has stood continuously for all this time. In fact four hours at night might be enough to recharge the body, based upon a book by the historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech. Over 20 years Ekirch undertook a detailed study of the human relationship with the night, analyzing diaries, medical books, and literature, finding more than 500 references to ways in which at night people slept. The references describe sleep that began about two hours after dusk, followed by a waking period of one to two hours and then by a second lot of rest. And when they woke in the middle of the night, . . . some got up, went to the toilet, smoked tobacco, or even visited the neighbors. Most people, however, remained in bed, meditating, praying or looking through a book, certainly not in a desperate attempt to get back to sleep immediately. . . . And now, therefore, disorders such as insomnia are the result of habits that occurred only in the modern age. When we can not fall back to sleep, according to this expert conclusion, we are not doing anything but following an old habit and natural experience. And we are not suffering from insomnia."
-“Otto ore di sonno? Troppe, ne bastano quattro,” Il Mattino (Naples), February 23, 2012
“Research shows we're not resting as God intended. If it's after midnight where you are and you're struggling to fall asleep, this article is for you. In the past century, sleeping patterns in the US and around the world have fallen into an unnatural cycle, causing insomnia, affecting daily performance, and driving people towards pharmaceutical drugs to control sleep. Your insomnia may be caused by society's insistence that you sleep for a single eight-hour block at night instead of following a natural pattern.The problem likely arises from our unnatural sleep pattern. Both historical and medical studies reveal that humans have a natural inclination to sleep in two periods per day instead of one solid block at night. In 2001, Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a paper based on 16 years of historical research. The evidence he drew upon reveal a long-lost historical fact: humans used to sleep in two periods, not one as we do today. Professor Ekirch published a book based on his studies, 'At Day's Close: Night in Times Past' which was published in 2005. In the book, he presents more than 500 historical references to segmented sleep schedules drawn from diaries to literature and even court records. He also uses anthropological data from the modern tribes of Nigeria to support his claim with contemporary evidence. . . . For most adults however, falling asleep on cue in the evening and remaining asleep through the night is a daunting task that is dreaded because failure can mean difficulty in the day ahead. It also causes anxiety and stress as the individual struggles with the psychological pressure to return to sleep when their body refuses. . . . Ekirch found that in the waking period between sleep, people once engaged in many activities. One common activity was prayer and meditation. Unfortunately, by forcing ourselves into an unnatural sleep pattern and viewing quiet personal time as 'wasteful' we find dramatic increases in anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism, and drug use. Perhaps we have it wrong - for time spent in prayer and contemplation is never wasted time, something to think about as you lie awake tonight."
- “Got Insomnia? Sleep on This,” Catholic Online, February 23, 2012
“The healthy habit of sleeping seven to nine hours every night is not always the most natural way for humans to rest. Scientific studies and history demonstrate that, throughout history, people actually did not sleep at a stretch, . . . A sixteenth-century medical manual even recommended keeping sex in the middle of the night, after a 'first sleep' as 'more enjoyable' and 'done better'. According to historian Roger Ekirch, who has researched the subject for 16 years, there is numerous historical evidence to show that people slept in two phases. Today the Tiv tribe of Nigeria continues to use the terms 'first sleep' and 'second sleep' to refer to the times of the night. Ekirch's study, says the BBC, concluded that this conception of sleep at night began to fade in the late seventeenth century, coinciding with the arrival of night lighting of cities (Paris was in 1667, the first city to put lighting in all its streets).”
- “Realmente necesitamos dormir ocho horas seguidas?,” La Vanguardia (Barcelona), February 23, 2012
“According to Roger Ekirch, a professor at Virginia Tech University, eight hours of sleep is a fairly new invention. The most decisive change in our sleep patterns occurred when electric light was introduced. Before the Industrial Revolution, we had very different rhythms, namely what I call segmented sleep, writes Roger Ekirch. In his 20-year research, he found more than 500 written sources, dating back to Homer, that support his conclusion that we once had two phases of sleep each night. They had names such as 'first sleep' and 'second sleep' or 'morning sleep.' The first, which was seen as the most important, lasted normally from about 9 pm to midnight. One woke up and remained awake one or two hours before you fell into the second sleep.”
- Artnt Olaf Foseide, “Før sov vi to gonger kvar natt,” Framtida i Nord (Nordresia, Norway), February 24, 2012
“What is a ‘normal’ sleep pattern? This turns out to be an interesting historical question. As recently as 200 years ago, sleep patterns differed significantly from ours. Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech, wrote a wonderful book on the subject called At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. Ekirch documents, through analysis of hundreds of primary sources, that our ancestors commonly had a “first sleep” followed by a period of wakefulness, followed in turn by a “second” or “morning” sleep. This pattern, a function of living in a night that was both long and dark, disappeared with modern home and street lighting systems. In other words, we all sleep abnormally, at least in historical terms, though some more abnormally than others. My cancer patients frequently complain about their sleep, or lack thereof, particularly in the months following chemotherapy. As many as 45% of cancer patients complain of sleeplessness in some series . . . . Does any of this matter from a cancer standpoint? If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, will your micrometastases wake up? We don’t really know, but if you mimic obstructive sleep apnea in mice by exposing them to intermittent hypoxia, their tumors grow at a more rapid rate.”
- George W. Sledge, Jr., MD, “Perchance to Dream,” Oncology Times, Feb.27, 2012
“An increasing number of scientists share Ekirch's belief that some sleeping problems suffered today may have been inherited from the human body's natural preference for shorter sessions of sleep. 'For most of evolution we slept a certain way,' says one sleep psychologist. 'Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology.' This is sort of good news for those of us who often wake in the middle of the night - we're just doing what nature intended. Although the fact might not really compensate for all those hours staring into darkness, it may help us avoid the waves of anxiety that such sleeplessness can cause.”
- Martin Hesp, “Why Scientists Are No Longer in the Dark When It Comes to Sleep,” Western Morning News (Plymouth, UK), March 12, 2012
“Roger Ekirch, a professor in the Department of History at Virginia Tech and author of At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, has found a wealth of evidence to suggest that the single sleep is a modern occurrence, with "first" and "second" sleeps considered the norm since the beginning of human civilisation. ‘The pattern of our sleep has changed from a segmented or bi-phasic pattern, which existed from time immemorial, to the compressed, consolidated form to which we aspire today, but do not always succeed in achieving,’ Ekirch told me. . . . Over the course of the next 250 years the trend filtered throughout the rest of Western society and by 1920 the concept of the first and second sleep had been eradicated from our collective memory. Sleep scientists today are only just starting to unpack the evolutionary underpinning of insomnia and other prevalent disorders. ‘There are some people who have adapted to modern society and are able to have this consolidated single sleep and there are others who have struggled to adapt as well and are easily distracted by noise and other disturbances and wake up in the middle of the night,’ explained Ron Grunstein, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Sydney. . . . Both Grunstein and Ekirch agree that the best thing people who have trouble staying asleep throughout the night can do is not fret about it. If you find that you can't easily drift back off you might want to take a leaf out of the pages of history and engage in some low-stimulus activity for an hour or two rather than sit there worrying about it. ‘People who awaken in the middle of the night for no explicable reason should not torment themselves about the source of their wakefulness or think themselves abnormal,’ Ekirch said. ‘Both physicians and patients have told me that this knowledge alleviates anxiety, which in itself contributes to wakefulness upon stirring in the middle of the night. Judged by thousands of years of human history, these so-called insomniacs are arguably more normal than the rest of us.’”
- Luke Malone, “Eight-Hour Sleep Unnatural, Say Experts,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 16, 2012
“And I have found evolutionary and historical precedent for my sleep cycles. Just the other day I spoke with Roger Ekirch, a Virginia Tech historian who has focused on sleep in Western cultures and has written At Day's Close: Night in Times Past. He told me that in the preindustrial era, before the proliferation of modern lighting, people routinely used to wake from their ‘first sleep’ sometime after midnight to talk with others, smoke a pipe, rob the nearby orchard or bring in the cows. After about an hour, he said, people returned to bed for their ‘second sleep’ until dawn. ‘It makes perfect sense if you accept the premise that segmented sleep was the dominant form of slumber before the Industrial Revolution,’ Ekirch said. ‘It makes perfect sense that a biological pattern since time immemorial would not relinquish its hold easily, that it would not fade rapidly into the mists of history. The process instead would be prolonged and erratic. Consolidated sleep is an artificial invention of modern life.’"
- Laura Hambleton, “An Insomniac Learns to Make the Most of Getting the Least Sleep,” The Washington Post, February 14, 2011
“But what's interesting is that in some of the research that's come out, particularly Roger Ekirch's book, his history of the night, he talks about before the invention of electric light, people slept in segmented sleep. They would sleep for a few hours, they'd be up for several hours, and then they'd be - fall back asleep again. So in many respects that sleep pattern is fairly natural.”
Patricia Morrisroe, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” May 4, 2010
“But is insomnia a modern problem? Are we sleeping less than we used to? Did people in prehistoric and ancient times really crash with the sunset and sleep til the cocks crowed? Is the prescribed eight hours a construct to suit industrial times? In his 2005 ground-breaking book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, American historian Roger Ekirch documented how humans slept through the ages — but not necessarily through the night. ‘He said that people slept in segmented sleep,’’ says [Patricia] Morrisroe. ‘They’d fall asleep for a couple of hours. They’d get up. They might talk. They might have sex with their bedfellows as there were often multiple people in beds because they often had communal beds. They’d pray. They would analyze their dreams. Maybe some would go out and steal livestock. Then they would go back to sleep. So this concept of segmented sleep may be very natural to us.’’’
Antonia Zerbislas, Toronto Star, May 1, 2010
“Ekirch relates, in perhaps his most fascinating revelation, pre-industrial man slept a segmented sleep. He has found more than 500 references, from Homer onwards, to a ‘first sleep’ that lasted until maybe midnight, and was followed by ‘second sleep’. In between the two, people routinely got up, peed, smoked, read, chatted, had friends round, or simply reflected on the events of the previous day - and on their dreams. (Plenty also had sex, by all accounts far more satisfactorily than at the end of a hard day's labouring. Couples who copulated ‘after the first sleep, wrote a 16th-century French doctor, ‘have more enjoyment, and do it better’.) Experiments by Dr Thomas Wehr at America's National Institute of Mental Health appear to bear out the theory that this two-part slumber is man's natural sleeping pattern: a group of young male volunteers deprived of light at night for weeks at a time rapidly fell into the segmented sleep routine described in so many of Ekirch's documentary sources. It could even be, Wehr has theorised, that many of today's common sleeping disorders are essentially the result of our older, primal habits "breaking through into today's artificial world.’"
Jon Henley, “The Dark Ages,” The Guardian (London), October 24, 2009
“But is it possible that such expectations are too much - that there never was such thing as a great night's sleep? In pre-industrial Europe, for example, sleeping for eight consecutive hours wasn't normal, American historian Roger Ekirch says. While in Britain to research his 2005 book, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, he discovered what he calls ‘segmented sleep.’ ‘The consolidated, seamless sleep we enjoy today was not the norm in the 19th century,’ he says on the phone from Virginia Tech, where he teaches. ‘There is no idyllic past in terms of sleep.’ Instead, people slept for two to three hours, surrounded by braying animals, people emitting terrible smells, and other environmental disturbances. They awoke at midnight for one or two hours, and then settled back down for a second ‘dawn’ slumber. In the interval, people stoked the fire, made love, prepared the next day's meal, stole apples from the neighbours, prayed, meditated or reflected upon their dreams. ‘Basically, they did anything and everything imaginable,’ Prof. Ekirch says with a chuckle. His findings resonate with those of scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington D.C., who have conducted clinical research into segmented sleep and found that, without the interference of artificial light, many people naturally slept in two phases.‘Insomniacs may simply be experiencing this pre-industrial, once-dominant pattern of sleep,’ Prof. Ekirch says."
The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Nov. 15, 2008
“But to alter and really shake up our expectations - as one might renew a flattened eiderdown - we need the historian A Roger Ekirch to come to our aid. He explains (in At Day's Close: A History of Nighttime) that before the industrial revolution, it was the norm for people to sleep in two parts (a sort of sleep sandwich). In the middle - the filling - all manner of things went on. 'Families rose to urinate, smoke tobacco, and even visit close neighbours. Many others made love, prayed, and, most important, historically, reflected on their dreams, a significant source of solace and self-awareness.' It is an upbeat idea: the night as opportunity. But it is easier to imagine than to achieve.”
Kate Kellaway, “Is Anxiety about Sleep Keeping Us All Awake?,” The Observer (London), April 27, 2008
“. . . fascinating historical and scientific research that challenges the consensus view of sleep as a continuous, consolidated 8-hour block of time. When University of Virginia [Virginia Tech] historian A. Roger Ekirch began researching sleep in pre-industrial societies he was surprised by hundreds of references to something called "first sleep" and a second or "morning sleep." It seems as though before the advent of mass artificial lighting - with its attendant suite of late-night consumption opportunities - much of the Western world slept in two sections: once in the early evening, and once more in the early morning. In between our ancestors woke for several hours to a curious state of consciousness that had no name, other that the generic "watch" or "watching." Ekirch's historical evidence aligns with scientific findings from the respected National Institutes of Health chronobiologist Thomas Wehr. For one month Wehr had a group of volunteers spend the full duration of a 14-hour winter's night in bed. Every one of the volunteers lapsed into a segmented sleep pattern. Although it took a succession of long winter nights to provoke this kind of sleep, when Wehr published his findings he speculated that segmented sleep may be the default physiological pattern for humans in general - certainly it matched similar patterns observed in modern forager cultures.”
Jeff Warren, Huffington Post, April 25, 2008
“Research by Professor Ekirch revealed that in pre-industrial times, before electricity and gaslights, people typically slept in two bouts of four hours. There would be a gap of wakefulness in-between lasting about two hours. A similar result was found by sleep researchers in the nineties at the National Institute of Mental Health, when people were exposed to light that mimicked natural variations of day and night. So it may be comforting to know that your experience may not necessarily be abnormal, but possibly a remnant of normal mammalian evolution. Indeed some animals like chimpanzees and giraffes are reported to share the same sleep patterns.”
- Neel Halder, M.D., Royal College of Psychiatry, Manchester Evening News, March 3, 2008
“In ancient times, according to two recent histories of sleep, people probably slept no better than we insomniacs - they woke frequently to tend their animals or children, all snorting and snoring in the same sleeping space. Night was often a ghastly time. In some societies, sleep was broken into two four-hour shifts, with singing or other activities in-between. So people who wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep easily may be reverting to ancient patterns. ‘It's the seamless sleep we aspire to that's the anomaly, the creation of the modern world,’ Roger Ekirch, author of At Day's Close, told The New York Times recently.”
Adele Horin, “Unravel the Sleeve of Care for a Decent Night’s Sleep,” Sydney Morning Herald, February 23, 2008
“It is interesting to note, as Roger Ekirch wrote in his fascinating book At Day’s Close, that centuries before the discovery of light and electricity, night sleep habits of mankind were different from the consolidated sleep we seek nowadays. In the days past there were two periods of sleep….”
- Sudhansu Chokroverty, M.D., Questions and Answers About Sleep Apnea (Jones and Bartlett, 2008)
“There was a time when deep night would have seen most Westerners, too, up and about or in a state of semi-wakefulness. Not much was known about past patterns of sleep or nighttime activity in Europe until A. Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, brilliantly remedied the ignorance.”
- Jennifer Ackerman, Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).
“In a provocative article last year in Applied Neurology, Dr. Walter Brown reviews historical descriptions of pre-industrial sleep and suggests that sleeping in two nightly shifts separated by an hour or two of quiet wakefulness is completely normal. I encourage you to read it. He proposes that the advent of inexpensive artificial light allowed us to stay awake long after sundown and has led us to be so chronically sleep deprived that we usually sleep for 7 uninterrupted hours nightly. This uninterrupted sleep pattern has now become the new norm. When our natural pattern of sleeping in two shifts reasserts itself, we find it abnormal and distressing. We are sure something is wrong, and a whole industry has sprung up to reinforce our anxiety and help us sleep the way we think we should. Our expectations about our bodies go a long way toward shaping what symptoms we find distressing and what we ignore. Many patients are quite alarmed about entirely normal symptoms and refuse to be reassured. But patients alone are not to be blamed. Many forces have pushed modern medicine to pathologize normal symptoms. After all, pharmaceutical companies sell prescriptions, not reassurance.”
Albert Fuchs, M.D., Beverly Hills, California, Dec. 13, 2007, www.albertfuchs.com
“More surprising still, Ekirch reports that for many centuries, and perhaps back to Homer, Western society slept in two shifts. People went to sleep, got up in the middle of the night for an hour or so, and then went to sleep again. Thus night -- divided into a ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’ -- also included a curious intermission. ‘There was an extraordinary level of activity,' Ekirch told me. People got up and tended to their animals or did housekeeping. Others had sex or just lay in bed thinking, smoking a pipe, or gossiping with bedfellows. Benjamin Franklin took 'cold-air baths,' reading naked in a chair. Our conception of sleep as an unbroken block is so innate that it can seem inconceivable that people only two centuries ago should have experienced it so differently. Yet in an experiment at the National Institutes of Health a decade ago, men kept on a schedule of 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness -- mimicking the duration of day and night during winter -- fell into the same, segmented pattern. They began sleeping in two distinct, roughly four-hour stretches, with one to three hours of somnolence -- just calmly lying there -- in between. Some sleep disorders, namely waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall asleep again, 'may simply be this traditional pattern, this normal pattern, reasserting itself,' Ekirch told me. 'It's the seamless sleep that we aspire to that's the anomaly, the creation of the modern world.’''
Jon Mooallem, “The Sleep-Industrial Complex, New York Times Magazine, November 18, 2007
“There seems little doubt that our sleep patterns have changed over the centuries, partly in response to technology. Research by Virginia Tech history professor A. Roger Ekirch suggests most western Europeans before the industrial revolution enjoyed ‘segmented sleep’ - they woke midway through the night to reflect on their dreams, smoke tobacco and even visit neighbours."
Peter Barber, “Snooze Function,” Financial Times (London), May 25, 2007
“Segmented or fragmented sleep appears in early times to have been the rule rather than exception, writes the American writer Walter Brown in a fascinating article in Scientific American Mind (January 2007). He cites the research of the historian Roger Ekirch, who in early literature discovered that before the invention of gaslight and electricity, most people in the evening and at night slept in two episodes. They called the episodes "first sleep" and "second sleep". In effect, most people after sunset went to sleep for four hours and then woke up. They stayed awake a few hours and then went to sleep for four hours until sunrise. What did they do in the dark night hours? Everything, according to the literature. Household tasks that could be done by candlelight. Talk. Sometimes they even went to visit others. The hours were also often used for prayer, contemplation and reflection on the dreams of the first sleep. . . . Many people [today] awake in the middle of the night and then lie and worry about their loss of sleep. They try desperately to get back to sleep and even swallow sleeping pills to sleep through the night. Maybe they should do what their ancestors did: early to bed, awaken to do something useful or pleasant, and after a few hours go back to bed for the second sleep.”
- Elsevier (Amsterdam), March 14, 2007
>“A recent discovery and a reexamination of some classic sleep literature suggest that for some people the perfect eight hours of sleep remains elusive for a very simple reason: our need for such uninterrupted slumber may be nothing but a fairy tale. The source of this new assault on conventional thinking comes not from a drug company lab or a university research program but from a historian.”
Walter A. Brown, “Ancient Sleep in Modern Time,” Scientific American Mind, December 2006/January 2007
“Recently I had reason to think about varieties of sleep and dreams – historians’ dreams of the past, writers’ dreams of their subject, dreamers in the past. The occasion was a conference that included sleep researchers in neuroscience; and the inspiration was a marvelous essay on the history of sleep by the early modern historian A. Roger Ekirch. It’s not a subject that comes naturally. Ekirch points out historians’ generic preference for vigorous actors: ‘our entire history is only the history of waking men’. . . . Ekirch explicates this historical ‘bias’ in favour of active, animated
protagonists and against dull sleepers: ‘Whereas our waking hours are animated, volatile, and highly differentiated, sleep appears, by contrast, passive, monotonous, and uneventful’”.
Christine Stansell, History Workshop Journal, Autumn 2006
“The study fits what may be an ancient human pattern, according to findings of historian A. Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech, author of At Day's Close: Night in Times Past. "The dominant pattern in the Western world until the Industrial Revolution was not seamless sleep, but segmented sleep," he says. Diaries and literary references going back to Homer referred to ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep,’ each about four hours. In between, in the dark of night, people would talk, use the chamber pot, slap at fleas and lice, be on the alert for predators and have sex, he says. Most people’s real lives no longer allow for that human pattern of natural sleep.”
Susan Brink, “After You Close Your Eyes,” Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2006
“Before the invention of the electric light and the normalization of clock time, humans slept quite differently. In a review of Roger Ekirch’s At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime, David Wooton notes how the sleep of our ancestors was divided each night into two separate periods. After the “first” sleep people woke, read, talked, prayed, made love and so on. Wooton observes that ‘everyone knew the difference between first and second sleep, and no-one expected to sleep right through.’ By contrast, our own sleep, mediated by artificial rhythms and technological stimulation, all too often requires medicinal or narcotic supplements to get us through the night.”
Simon Cooper, Arena Magazine (Victoria, Australia), June-July, 2006
“Everyone who reads and writes about Ekirch's book seems very taken by his re-discovery of the fact that our notion of one continuous, seamless nighttime sleep (leaving our people in our pictures and our teddy bears free to play in peace) is just a modern trend and an artificial, unnatural imposition against the wills of our bodies and minds.”
I. Warden, “Warden’s World,” Canberra Times, June 30, 2006
“The discoveries of Ekirch and [Thomas] Wehr raise the possibility that segmented sleep is ‘normal’ and, as such, these revelations hold significant implications for both understanding sleep and the treatment of insomnia.”
Walter A. Brown, “Acknowledging Preindustrial Patterns of Sleep May Revolutionize Approach to Sleep Dysfunction,” Applied Neurology, May 2006.
“One of the many revelations in A. Roger Ekirch’s historical investigation of night-time, At Day’s Close, is the demonstration that until the modern age, segmented sleep was more common than the straight eight-hour stretch. Premoderns used to go to bed at nightfall for their “first sleep,” then rise again around or after midnight for a tenebral intermezzo of reading, talking, sex, or, if they were unlucky, household chores, before retiring again for another few hours of slumber.”
- Harry Eyres, Financial Times, May 13, 2006
“So here's a question: Is the proverbial good night's sleep really the Holy Grail of human well-being? In his 2005 book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, historian A.Roger Ekirch said no. He argued that the transition from old-fashioned "segmented sleep" to today's continuous sleep pattern hasn't helped mankind. ‘There is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age, with a provenance as old as humankind,’ Ekirch wrote. Up until the invention of artificial lighting, he noted, men and women went to bed earlier and woke up in the middle of the night to smoke a pipe, make love, or analyze their dreams. Now we sleep when we want to and fitfully, at best.”
- Alex Beam, “Perchance to Sleep,” Boston Globe, April 10, 2006
“A recent article by A. Roger Ekirch, a professor of history and author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, caught my eye. In it he challenges the concepts of the patterns of sleep which we now accept as normal. . . . We now find ourselves battling against nature to get what we see as our rightful share of sleep. Forced into an unnatural sleep pattern, many people seek refuge in the sedative effects of alcohol and hypnotics to restore this artificial pattern may in fact just be a more natural form of segmented sleep, just as nature intended. . . . So perhaps it’s time to re-educate ourselves and our patients about what is ‘normal’ when it comes to slumber.”
Muiris Houston, M.D., Medicine Weekly (Dublin), March 15, 2006
“Sleep patterns around the world have undergone a revolution over the past two centuries as the spread of artificial lighting profoundly changed the shape of human lives, first in cities and now even in many remote villages. Throughout most of history sundown brought an end to the activities in most homes, with people crawling into bed soon afterwards. A. Roger Ekirch—author of a magisterial history of nighttime, At Day’s Close (Norton)— argues that the very nature of a night’s rest has changed since the Industrial Revolution. Sleep for our ancestors was often divided into two shifts of roughly four hours, with a period of wakefulness lasting an hour or longer in between. A study conducted by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Mental Health appears to confirm Ekirch’s thesis.”
Jay Walljasper, Ode Magazine, November 2005
"Ekirch's research on nighttime led to the surprising discovery, laid out in his recent book, At Day's Close: Night In Times Past, about humanity's frequent nightly pastime, sleep. Ekirch learned that, before artificial light, humans had a "first sleep" of two to three hours, followed by a one- to two-hour long period of wakefulness and then several more hours of sleep. He found references to this pattern of segmented or broken sleep in numerous references, even the Aeneid and Homer's Odyssey. ‘So it was for hundreds, probably thousands of years,’ he said. ‘Beginning in the late 17th century, segmented slumber gradually grew less common’ with the increasing popularity of artificial illumination and a goal of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. This ‘altered circadian rhythms as old as humanity itself.’"
A.J. Hostetler, “Is the Nighttime Losing its Identity,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 28, 2005
“But surely sleep itself, when it did come, was just like our sleep, wasn't it? In one of the most fascinating sections of a fascinating book, Ekirch demonstrates how differently our forebears slept their eight hours a night. After "breeches-off" time, the "customary term for nine o' clock in parts of Germany," the sleepers fell into their ‘first sleep,’ which usually lasted till midnight or so. Then they roused to urinate, have sex, mull over their dreams and share intimate conversation with their spouses. The educated might use the time to read and study by candlelight, while farmers might check on their livestock and women might get up to ‘rock the cradle, also to card and comb wool, to patch and to wash, to rub flax and reel yarn and peel rushes.’ Others, industrious after a different fashion, found it a good time to slip out and poach game, steal firewood, rob orchards and perhaps practice magic. Most people, though, probably talked a while, performed a task or two, and then slipped into their ‘second sleep’ till cock-crow. This two-part pattern of sleep is, Ekirch says, still typical in the part of the world where artificial light has not arrived.”
Andrew Hudgins, “Laughter in the Dark,” Raleigh News & Observer, July 31, 2005
“A wonderful section, for example, describes the practice of segmented sleep: before the industrial age, people often slept for a few hours after dinner, then woke after midnight to engage in restful contemplation and prayer, conversation or sex, and then resumed sleeping until daybreak. 'Regenerate man finds no time so fit to raise his soul to Heaven, as when he awakes at mid-night,' wrote the author of 'Mid-Night Thoughts'' in 1682.’”
Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New York Times, July 24, 2005
“The discussion of sleep patterns is especially interesting. ‘There is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age, with a provenance as old as humankind,’ Ekirch writes. People went to bed early and awoke around midnight. Some got up for awhile; most probably lay in bed thinking, dozing, or talking with their bedmate, before falling asleep for another four hours or so. This interval of wakefulness may have boosted birth rates among the laboring classes, Ekirch says.”
Fritz Lanham, “Nighttime as Fright Time,” Houston Chronicle, June 26, 2005
“Perhaps the strangest revelation of Ekirch's book is the fact that our forebears, far from enjoying a dark night's sleep uninterrupted by neighbours' security lights or car alarms, found themselves prey, not only to shouts of ‘murder’ in the streets and fears of thieves or the more spectral intruders of their imaginations, but also to waking regularly at midnight - their rest being separated into ‘first sleep" and "second sleep’. It was a habitual but natural division of the night which only modern lighting would change (by keeping us awake until late), and it is just one of the many facts in this engrossing book that illuminate the darker recesses of the past.”
Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph (London), June 19, 2005
“We no longer sleep as nature intended us to - in two major intervals of sleep bridged by up to an hour or more of wakefulness, asserts Ekirch. In the older age more attuned to inner clocks, not only was sleep segmented but that fragmentation of sleep made us more responsive to the our subconscious, he aver; people apparently awoke after midnight and, instead of tossing and turning, they regularly got up to talk, study, pray and do chores. The historian has dug up literary and epistolary references to the so-called first sleep or primo somno and the second sleep, which is sometimes referred to as 'morning sleep'. Worse, he warns that by substituting this episodic sleep with a shorter, seamless slumber, we have committed a crime against nature. "By turning night into day," he writes, "modern technology has helped to obstruct our oldest path to the human psyche."
Lola Chantal, “Is ‘Wakeful’ Sleep More Soulful?” Economic Times (Mumbai), May 30, 2005
“Strikingly, [Ekirch] addresses at length the once commonly accepted notion of "first sleep," an initial and distinct period of deep and restful sleep that was fully expected to be followed by an interval of wakefulness before the remainder of the night's sleep, referred to as "second sleep" or "morning sleep." This pattern of sleep was widely recognized, as is demonstrated by Ekirch's compendious list of medical, literary, and popular sources referencing the term in English, French, and Italian from before the 13th century through the 19th century. This was considered a normal and unproblematic sleep pattern. There is no particular mention in print of waking in the middle of the night as undesirable or pathologic. Quite the contrary, Ekirch located scores of references in journals and diaries to the peacefulness and meditative appeal of this waking period.”
Oskar G. Jenni and Bonnie B. O’Connor, “Children’s Sleep: An Interplay between Culture and Biology,” Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, January 2005
“Studies of Western Europeans by historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg show that “segmented sleep” was a common practice of rural and urban people 200-55 years ago.”
Tim Batchelder, “The Cultural Biology of Sleep,” Townshend Letter for Doctors and Patients, July 2002
“But there is magic, too, in the unlit night, a loosening of the temporal and physical boundaries that bind us by day. Ekirch uncovered multiple references to ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’ in historical records; he theorizes that once we slept in two roughly equal interludes, split by a period of quiet wakefulness in which dreams were contemplated and prayers offered. This creative window closed gradually during the 19th century, as gas lamps became common and human sleep patterns consolidated.”
- Kate Terwilliger, Denver Post, April 6, 2001
“One of Ekirch's discoveries surprised him: in the pre-electric centuries, people slept differently. We assume it is normal to slumber more or less continuously through the night. We think of wakefulness as a disorder--insomnia. And common sense suggests that, without electric lights, our preindustrial ancestors must have slept from sunset to sunrise. But Ekirch has found that was not so. Preindustrial people's sleep was segmented. They might lie an hour or more before falling asleep. About four hours later, they would awaken. For another hour or so, they would lie meditating on their dreams or praying. They would talk with bedmates. They might even visit neighbors, similarly awake. They might pilfer or poach. Then they would sleep another four hours or so. People, as a matter of course, routinely referred to their first sleep and their second sleep.”
Joyce and Richard Wolkomir, Smithsonian, January 2001
“Our ancestors, living before electric lighting, probably didn't get that sleep all at once. Waking with the sun and retiring for the day when darkness fell, they had plenty of time in bed, and historian A. Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech has found that they slept in two segments. References as far back as Virgil and Homer called it ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep.’ In between was an hour or two of quiet wakefulness that our ancestors sometimes called ‘the watch.’ It was a time to ponder dreams and plot wars.”
Susan Brink, “Sleepless Society,” U.S. New and World Report, October 8, 2000.
“In other times, what is more, people may have slept differently. Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Polytechnic in the US, is currently finishing a book about nocturnal British life between 1500 and 1850. He has discovered ‘hundreds’ of references, he says, in people's diaries and letters and court statements, to sleeping routines that now sound quite alien. ‘Most households,’ he says, ‘experienced a pattern of broken sleep.’ People went to bed at nine or 10. They awakened after midnight, after what they called their ‘first sleep' stayed conscious for an hour, and then had their ‘morning sleep’. The interlude was a haven for reflection, remembering dreams, having sex, or even night-time thievery. The poorest, Ekirch says, were the greatest beneficiaries, fleetingly freed from the constraints and labours that ruled their daytime existence. By the 17th century, as artificial light became more common, the rich were already switching to the more concentrated - and economically efficient - mode of recuperation that we follow today. The industrial revolution pushed back the dusk for everyone except pockets of country-dwellers.”
Andy Beckett, Guardian, August 10, 1999