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Olden Days: Second Sleep
Well, this explains Second Breakfast...
By Christine Stoddard
In a life rife with sinful coffee habits, the constant blue glow of electronic devices, and rampant political and economic woes, we shouldn't be sleeping well. So it's no surprise that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, we're not. What is perhaps surprising is the National Sleep Foundation's recommended average of eight hours' sleep per night isn't predicated on centuries of science or even folklore. Author of Day's Close: Night in Times Past and Virginia Tech history professor, A. Roger Ekirch, claims that, prior to the Industrial Revolution, humanity's dominant sleeping pattern was segmented. People would sleep for one REM cycle, wake up, putter about for a couple of hours, and then go to sleep again until dawn.
Disinformation recently ran a piece on second sleep, and I found the article (fittingly) on Facebook. One of my friends had posted a link to the story on his wall. While I hadn't found the post after my first sleep, it reminded me of a newly formed personal habit: I'll sleep for four or five hours, usually read, and then sleep a few more hours until I must rise for the day. Sometimes between sleeps, I'll just think—serenely and rather rationally, not anxiously or madly. On more than one occasion, I've woken up from a dream and found myself wondering about one of its subjects. Google answers most questions I have about former teachers, classmates, co-workers and other acquaintances. Wikipedia will remind me of historical events, geographical locations, and books or movies I've read or watched before. What was the name of that mystical creature in my dream? Oh, yeah. Thanks, Wiki.
During the couple of hours I'm awake, I often won't leave my room (or even my bed) before falling asleep again. If I do, it's just to get a glass of water or use the bathroom. I prefer to stay in my Pjs, swaddled in blankets, unfed. The house is silent and the sky is dark. Sometimes a train whistles or an ambulance roars. Sometimes cats and dogs will yell and screech. My sister, an art student and waitress, has not always returned home by this hour. I'll find that she is still editing photos in one of the campus labs or wrapping up at the restaurant. All alone in my home, still hours away from facing the world, I am absolutely content. As Mark Twain said, “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” In between sleeps is prime time for thinking about loved ones, feeling assured that they're probably safe in bed, catching up on reading and not worrying about a stitch.
The romantic vision our society has of writers throughout the ages often depicts them hunched over a desk, scribbling with a plume by candlelight. After learning about second sleep, I imagine many a wordsmith rubbing their eyes after that first sleep, knocking out a letter or a poem and crawling back into bed for a second sleep. Bonne nuit encore.
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