Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
Because Ekirch makes such bold statements in his first paper concerning ‘segmented sleep’ in order to fit the evidence concerning ‘early rising’ and the supposed decline in references to ‘segmented sleep’ in the literature Ekirch has to resort to the construction of a complex hypothesis requiring a large number of assumptions to be made. Thus, according to Ekirch over a very short period of time; bedtimes got later, ‘first sleep’ elongated, leading to longer period of consolidated sleep, which lead to the ‘second sleep’ being displaced to the morning hours and then the ‘Early Rising Movement’ encouraged people to forgo this second sleep which resulted in a single period of consolidated sleep. As a result of all these assumptions Ekirch believes that people who are now experiencing middle of the night insomnia are actually merely experiencing a natural throwback to pre-industrial segmented sleep.  However the only problem for Ekirch is that he is unable to offer   o Any evidence to support his theory that bedtimes became later o Any evidence that there was a consolidation of sleep o Any evidence that the first period of sleep elongated o Any explanation of the physiological or biological changes required o Any evidence of the existence of an ‘Early Rising Movement’ o Any evidence that the second sleep mentioned by the references he quotes is related to some ancient usage of the phrase o Any evidence that the ‘second sleep’ mentioned by the references he quotes is anything other than a short nap in the morning i.e. a second episode of sleep after the main consolidated period of sleep. With the complexity of his hypothesis and the lack of evidence that he actually presents to support it one must consider Occam's razor, which in its modern iteration states that - when presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions. I wish to present an alternative hypothesis that I believe fully explains the evidence found in the literature and requires no unsupported assumptions to be made Segmented sleep can be fully explained by what Ekirch calls termed Middle of The Night insomnia. Given the fact that the word ‘insomnia’ was not in use till late 1800’s, a different lexicon must have had to be used to phenomena and this I contend included the use of the phrases ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleep. This explanation accounts for the paucity of actual descriptions of ‘segmented sleep’, as hypothesised by Ekirch, in the literature, as it is a condition suffered by a few, rather that the predominant mode of sleep in pre-industrial times. This explanation also accounts for the fact that there is not a word/phrase for the intervening period of wake, because it was not in fact a ‘thing’, in the same way that there is no current word/phrase specifically for the period of wake experience during middle of the night insomnia. With regards to the actual practise of ‘early rising’ in the mid to late nineteenth century, how is this any different than what was happening 300 years earlier, as Ekirch says in his first paper “Moreover, while contemporaries routinely lauded sleep and its manifest contributions to personal health, they also, even more frequently, scorned slumber that appeared excessive. Puritans in England and America often railed against what Richard Baxter called "unnecessary sluggishness," but so, too, did myriad others who were increasingly time conscious by the sixteenth century.” (read more here, here & here) The explanation for the media attention concerning ‘early rising’ is perhaps best given from this passage written in 1907 and describing events in 1861 (The Lyon campaign in Missouri. Being a history of the First Iowa infantry and of the causes which led up to its organization, and how it earned the thanks of Congress, which it got. Together with a birdseye view of the conditions in Iowa preceding the great civil war of 1861. By E. F. Ware 1907, 213 here) July 16th, Reveille at 3:30, as usual. Those were the days of early rising. Back in those years there was a fad about early rising. "Early to rise" was the rule; my father always rose at 4 A. M. in summer and 5 a. m. in winter. When an obituary was printed in the newspapers in those old days the notice always told at what time the deceased was in the habit of rising. My father always waked me when he got up. The people who advocated only six hours of sleep were very numerous. '' We sleep too much," was the cry. "A person can get used to six hours' sleep and it is all he wants," was the statement of others. It was not a question then so much of the quantity of work a man did in a day, as, "When does he begin?" But then, every generation has its fads.
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2018