A 1595 engraving by Jan Saenredam

Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech, believes that he’s found evidence that until sometime between the 17th and 19th century Europeans used to sleep in two separate blocks, known as first and second sleep, rather than one eight hour block. According to historical literature he’s uncovered, people would wake up for an hour or two between blocks.

From the BBC:

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”.

BBC: The myth of the eight-hour sleep

(via Hacker News)

See also:

Segmented Sleep