Between first sleep and second sleep

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...]

Why do we sleep?

Virtually all living organisms sleep, or its equivalent.  But it has been a puzzle why.  Surely spending a big part of every day unconscious can’t have much survival value.  But scientists have now discovered that sleep is when our bodies repair themselves and when our brain is rejuvenated and, literally, cleansed.

Time has a fascinating article on the subject, linked and excerpted after the jump.  Type-A personalities who brag about how little they sleep so they can work more, party animals who stay up all night, commuters who stay up late and get up early, and college students in general would do well to read it. [Read more...]

Why we sleep

Virtually all animals sleep, but scientists have had a hard time figuring out why that is.  New research has apparently uncovered a major reason why our brains need to go out of consciousness on a regular basis:  While we are asleep, toxins that build up in the brain get flushed out.  Experiments with mice show that their brain cells actually shrink  so that there is 60% more space between them, allowing fluid to wash them more effectively, sweeping out dead cells and Alzheimer’s-causing plaque, as well as chemical toxic wastes.

How lucky we are that so many random mutations came together to make this happen so as to allow us to sleep!  I feel bad, though, about the animals that must have lived for millions of years before one of them, completely by chance, gained this survival advantage and spread it to all other species.  Before they could sleep, living organisms must have been really grumpy.

After the jump, details about the discovery. [Read more...]

First sleep, second sleep

David T. Koyzis points to historical research that shows that people used to sleep differently than we do today.  Instead of sleeping for an 8-hour-or-so block of time, people would sleep three or four hours, wake up for two or three hours, and then sleep again until morning.  It would all take about 12 hours–go to bed when it got dark (say at 8:00 p.m.); wake up at midnight until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.; then enjoy what they called “second sleep” until 8:00 a.m.

This was the practice in the West from ancient times until the 17th century with the advent of street lights and then the industrial revolution, though it lingered on some places until the 20th century.  (And today in some people’s patterns of insomnia.)

Prof. Koyzis shows how this fact explains certain passages in Scripture.  Also the monastic prayer offices in the middle of the night.  Also, I would add, the various watches of the night, in which sailors, soldiers, and others out in the elements exposed to danger  took three-hour shifts standing guard through the night.   Details after the jump. [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X