About two years ago, we posted First Sleep, Second Sleep, which became the 12th most-read post on this blog, with people to this day clicking on it. It had to do with what historians have discovered about sleep patterns in the days before artificial lighting, from ancient and Biblical days through the 17th century. People would go to bed shortly after it turned dark, sleep for four hours, wake up for two or three hours, then go back to sleep for another four hours. During the period of wakefulness between “first sleep” and “second sleep,” people would talk, read, and pray. This seems to have been the main time when married couples would make love. Artificial lighting–not just candles but oil lamps and especially electric lighting–changed people’s sleeping patterns, letting us stay up late, though patterns of insomnia suggest that first sleep and second sleep is deep wired into our nature.
Anyway, researchers have been studying this phenomenon. Test subjects made to go to sleep when it gets dark, after a period of adjustment, fall back into the pattern. But then scientists discovered something else. That time between first sleep and second sleep is characterized by a unique state of consciousness. Although the person is fully awake, he or she is in a state of deep rest, relaxation, and peace.
Clark Strand, who has written a book on the subject, relates it to the “mindfulness” of Eastern meditation. I don’t think we have to go all mystical about it, like he does (though the connection might suggest why “the night watches” were such a good time for Bible reading and prayer), but I’m curious what this would have meant for marriages. Marital intimacy–sex, yes, but also conversation–may well have been heightened during this nightly state of mind. “Sleeping together” may have been more than a euphemism, perhaps a description of an deep intimacy that may be difficult to attain today. [Read more…]