Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
There are 7 major problems for the hypothesis that, to quote Ekirch, “Until the close of the early modern era, Western Europeans on most evenings experienced two major intervals of sleep bridged by up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness“ and that this mode of sleeping was “the predominant pattern of sleep before the Industrial Revolution”:- 1. The absence of descriptions in the literature of behaviour actually resembling Ekirch’s proposed ‘segmented sleep’ 2. The scarcity of the phrase ‘second sleep’ and its absence in almost all other languages in which the phrase ‘first sleep’ occurs. 3. The absence of descriptions, or names in any language, of the hypothesised intervening period of wakefulness. 4. The existence in a number of cultures of ‘third sleep’ 5. The fact that the vast majority of examples of ‘first sleep’ relate to people being ‘in’ or ‘awakened from’ their ‘first sleep’ not awaking after their ‘first sleep’ as Ekirch contends. 6. The fact that examples of ‘first sleep’ occur at various times of the night and even during the day. 7. The lack of any scientific evidence of ‘segmented sleep’ in people living under real-life ‘pre-industrial’ conditions. ‘First sleep’ and ‘Second sleep’ in other languages Ekirch’s papers have mainly focused on English and American sources but Ekirch does state that states that he has found related terms in French, ("premier sommeil" or "premier somme"), Italian, ("primo sonno" or "primo sono,") and he references a number of examples in each of these languages. Although he seems more interested in merely counting the number of occurrences of the phrase without any regards to the context that the phrase might have been used (see footnotes  66, 67, 68 of the first paper). (I have no proficiency in these languages, nor I suspect does Ekirch, and so am unable to judge the context).  He, perhaps surprisingly given the fact that he claims that “Until the close of the early modern era, Western Europeans on most evenings experienced two major intervals of sleep bridged by up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness“ and that this mode of sleeping was “the predominant pattern of sleep before the Industrial Revolution”, also quotes single examples of words/phrases related to first sleep in a number of other languages: Middle English, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, German, Polish, Italian, Hungarian, Slovene. (see here) Additionally I have found examples in Russian -  A Dictionary of the English and Russian Languages, Volume 2 By Jacob Banks here Hepßocónie, n. first sleep. Welsh Antiquae Linguae Britannicae Thesaurus: Being a British, Or Welsh-English Dictionary Thomas Richards 1815 R. Jones  here Cyntun, s. the first sleep, a nap or short sleep, sleep. From Cynt and Hyn. Cynt, adv. in time past, formerly, before, sooner: also, swifter, quick er, an anomalous comparative from Buan. Chald. Kodam, prisuquam, antequam, D. Hyn, pron, this (thing.) m. g. I am not an expert in the Welsh language so do not know why Cynt + Hun = “the first sleep” Swazi - The Swazi: An Ethnographic Account of the Natives of the Swaziland Protectorate · Brian Allan Marwick LimOxford niversity Press 1940  here  tintfongo tokaqala, the first sleep However what is very interesting is give that Ekirch states that segmented sleep was the “the predominant pattern of sleep before the Industrial Revolution” why are there so few examples of ‘first sleep’; seemingly none for ‘second sleep’ and none for the intervening period of wake in major European languages. It also surprising that there is seeming absence of the phrases in others languages such as Gaelic, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic. How did such a prevalent phenomenon go seemingly unrecorded by some may people for so long? Ekirch  states that “references in early European sources, when translated into English, typically read ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’”. However this could mean that such translations are in fact be a reflection of the translators mores rather than proof of the existence of the phrase, without understanding the the original context it is impossible to judge. For instance the Slovene example quoted by Ekirch, (although it actually from the Rezijansko dialect of Italy which has less than 1,400 speakers), is translated as ‘I have had my first sleep’ which does not necessarily fix it as a nocturnal event and may perhaps be compared the Welsh word ‘cyntun’ that is translated as ‘first sleep’, ‘short sleep’ and ‘a nap’ or the Russian, Hepßocónie, n. first sleep.
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2018