Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
Evidence of ‘segmented sleep’ in Non-Western societies As evidence for his contention as to the existence of ‘pre-industrial’ sleep Ekirch states that “some non-Western cultures with religious beliefs other than Christianity have long exhibited a segmented pattern of sleep remarkably similar to that of pre-industrial Europeans”   Ekirch states that “Whereas anthropologists have reported evidence of polyphasic as well as biphasic sleep, pre-industrial peoples observed in Africa, Latin America and Australia were more apt to sleep in two segments.” Ekirch quotes from the eHRAF World Cultures database here but for some reason obviously did not spend enough time searching their electronic archive to find all the occurrences of “first sleep” which I find somewhat strange given the importance he accords to evidence of non-western ‘segmented sleep’.This is especially odd given that two of the occurrences are from the Tiv for whom Ekirch gives significant prominence in all his writings. Akiga's Story: The Tiv Tribe As Seen By One Of Its Members Akiga; East, Rupert,International Institute of African Languages and Cultures; London ; Oxford University Press, 1939 P248 “‘Going tsav ’ means going out in the night and doing the deeds of the mbatsav . It does not happen only at night; in the daytime, too, if tsav strongly impels him, a man will go out and so obtain relief. But the night is the real time for going tsav . The hours in which the mbatsav are most active are, in the daytime, when the sun begins to show his strength, and in the night, either at dusk or after men have had their first sleep. P256 On the first day that Ity[]venda comes to claim the debt, he does not come alone, but sends out to collect all his mbatsav companions. Not one of these comes in his own shape; each takes on a different form. Some become mbaakiki, some great owls, some little owls, and some witchcats.  They form a long line, and set out for the home of Amopav, the man who owes the flesh debt. When they arrive at his home it is about the time of night when men have had their first sleep. The mbaakiki and the owls perch on the figtrees in and round about the village, hooting, while the witchcats fight amongst themselves and bump against the door of Amopav’s house. Every now and then they stop and place their forepaws on either side of their heads, wailing like a child. At this cry every one’s hair stands on end. Meanwhile Ity[unknown]venda, the man who is actually claiming the debt, sits with the chief men of the mbatsav, who are smoking their pipes and talking quietly together. That night the air is full of strange noises, and no one dares to go outside his house into the darkness. The Eastern Bororo Orarimogodogue Of The Eastern Plateau Of Mato Grosso Colbacchini, Antonio, Companhia Editora Nacional, 1942. 389 Then the old woman, who had already had her first sleep, got up and very slowly came near the grandson.  At Home With The Patagonians,  George Chaworth,  London: J. Murray, 1873, 174 By midnight all the liquor was exhausted and many drunk, but no disturbances occurred worthy of mention, all arms having previously been stowed away safely. I was roused from my first sleep by a lady from a neighbouring toldo, who wished to embrace me, and, with feminine curiosity wanted to know the contents of my letters. She was, I am sorry to say, in an advanced stage of intoxication, so after giving her a smoke, Orkeke, who had roused up and was dying of laughter, politely  showed her the door. This is an example that challenges Ekirch’s assertions that “Typically, descriptions recounted how an aroused individual had "had," "taken," or "gotten" his or her "first sleep." and that “the vast weight of surviving evidence indicates that awakening naturally was routine, not the consequence of disturbed or fitful slumber.” Travels In Montenegro , Containing A Topographical, Picturesque , And Statistical Account Of That Hitherto Undescribed Country  Vialla de Sommieres, L. C.; London,  R. Phillips, 1820, 22 We had no sooner fallen into our first sleep, than we were roused by a loud firing and repeated cries, joined to the barking of all the dogs in the neighbourhood. This is an example that challenges Ekirch’s assertions that “Typically, descriptions recounted how an aroused individual had "had," "taken," or "gotten" his or her "first sleep." and that “the vast weight of surviving evidence indicates that awakening naturally was routine, not the consequence of disturbed or fitful slumber.” Witchcraft, Oracles And Magic Among The Azande Evans-Pritchard, E. E., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937, 139 ‘This is another unpleasant dream that Kisanga dreamt. He was sitting on his bed when rain began to pour in the evening. It poured steadily for a long time and then completely ceased. Those two women who were inmates of his homestead went to a feast, and only Kisanga remained in the homestead with another girl. They made a good fire in their huts and prepared their beds. One of them lay down on one side of the fire and the other lay down on the other side. They were in their first sleep when something happened to Kisanga. He dreamt a dream in which many little stones poured on his head like drops of rain, and his body pained him as though he were pricked by thorns. He opened his eyes in sleep, but could not rise from his couch. These stones fell all over his body and poured down on his eyes. This thing raised him on his couch and placed him on high in the fork of a tree. He remained up on high and looked downwards, and the sight was horrible to him. He began to lose his hold on the tree and fell into a deep pool, and his entrails came out of the side of his body and he carried them in his hand. This became horrible to him and he awoke from sleep and shivered in terror. This affair is that bad dream that Kisanga dreamt. Thus ‘first sleep’ is only mentioned in the descriptions of 7 of the 301 societies archived and there are no occurrences of ‘second sleep’ which is perhaps surprising given the ubiquity that Ekirch claims for his idea of ‘segmented sleep’ A further search of the literature turned up this example from 1822 discussing the Coranna bushmen of  South African (Travels In South Africa, Undertaken At The Request Of The London Missionary Society; Seiko A Narrative Op A Second Journey  John Campbell. With A Map And Coloured Prints. Vol. II. Printed For The Society. Published And Sold By Francis Westley 1822 p275  here) Mr. S. said that most of them do not milk their cows in the morning, because their rest would be disturbed by early rising. After a long night's sleep, they will stretch their hands to the warm ashes of the fire, to light their pipe and smoke for a few minutes; and when the heat of the sun increases, they crawl on all fours to the nearest shade, again to indulge in sleep. If this retreat be invaded by his powerful rays, they are roused from their second slumber, and will creep to some more shady part. It is clear from this example that the ‘second slumber’ mentioned has nothing to do with Ekirch’s conception of segmented sleep. The Brahui people of Baluchistan, Pakistan also have the phrase which has been translated as ‘first sleep’ (The Brāhūī problem, Volume 2 of The Brahui Language, Denys Bray, Superintendent Government Printing, 1934 here) Brahui ‘avaliko tugh’ The earlier part of the night, ['the first sleep']   However Aubert and White (Vilhelm Aubert and Harrison White Sleep: A Sociological Interpretation. II Acta Sociologica 1959 Vol 4, Issue 3, pp. 1 - 16) who surveyed the anthropological reports on numerous ‘primitive societies’, including the Chagga and Tiv mentioned by Eirch, stated that they found that “All societies surveyed showed regular and continuous sleep during the night. This holds, however, only if “sleep” includes activities such as urinating, spasmodic chatting, smoking and other intermittent behaviour considered part of the cultural pattern of sleep.” They, like Worthman and Melby in their more recent review, found no evidence of behaviour that fits the description of ‘segmented sleep’ as set out by Ekirch. Furthermore his comprehensive book Primitive Time-Reckoning, Martin P. Nilsson gives numerous mentions of different time divisions of the night from ‘primitive’ cultures all over the globe however there is no mention of in any of these accounts of divisions of time relating to ‘first sleep’ or ‘second sleep’ as conceived by Ekirch (Primitive Time- Reckoning; a study in the origins and first development of the art of counting time among the primitive and early culture peoples. Martin P. Nilsson, C. W. K. Gleebup Lund, 1920). Ekirch states by way of explanation for the sleep patterns seen in the non-western societies states that “What, of course, all these cultures shared with early societies in Europe and America......was a severe shortage of artificial illumination”. Whilst there is an increasing body of evidence that artificial light undoubtedly has had an influence in shaping the pattern of modern sleep, two recent studies have shown that artificial light cannot be the only explanation for ‘post-industrial’ sleep. de la Iglesia et al (2015) studied two communities of indigenous Toba/Qom in the Argentinean Chaco. The two communities share the same ethnic and sociocultural background, but one has free access to electricity while the other relies exclusively on natural light. Their study found that, participants with access to electricity had a shorter daily sleep bout in both summer (43 ± 21 min) and winter (56 ± 17 min) than those living under natural light conditions. They found whilst the two communities woke up and got up at similar times during both seasons the difference was due to later daily bedtime and sleep onset in the community with electricity. Fragmentation of sleep in both communities was similar. The length of the natural night during summer was 10.5hrs and in winter 12.9hrs but in the community without access to electric light had a consolidated sleep period averaging 7 h in summer and approx. 8.5 h in winter. (both well within the average ‘western’ sleep duration)  This demonstrates that even though this community lack access to artificial illumination they were able to sleep for a period significantly less than the length of the night. Access to electricity only led to an approx.1hr reduction in the duration of sleep. In discussing their results in the terms of Ekirch’s paper they state that their results “do not show evidence of fragmented sleep or a bout of quiet wakefulness in either community”. Piosczyk et al. (2014) also did not observe ‘segmented sleep’ or sleep fragmentation in his study of volunteers living under Stone Age conditions with a night length of approx. 11hrs. From these studies it can be seen that whilst artificial light can to a degree affect the boundaries of sleep it cannot not account for the lack of fragmentation of sleep seen in ‘modern’ western sleep. Worthman and Melby in their review give numerous examples of how various factors in the sleep environment of ‘non-western’ societies can fragment sleep. In societies where the protective and thermal functions of fire are important sleepers are required to “rouse frequently in the night to monitor the fire and replenish it as necessary”. Fear of predators, of both people and livestock; mean that in many societies that at least some members of the community are required to remain watchful during the night. In other societies, such as the Gabra, watchdogs are used “to drive off predators and raise the alarm over stock raiders”. These dogs are said to “set up a clamor on average once or twice a night, and only rarely is a night undisturbed by a major outbreak of barking”. In some societies such as the Efe numerous people sleep in a small area meaning that the “degree of physical contact is high, with full body contact and frequent entwining of appendages of two or three sleepers, along with periodic arousals associated with rearrangement movement of others, noises (cries, sniffs, snores, etc.), and traffic associated with staggered bedtimes and occasional elimination”.  Among societies such as the !Kung and Efe foragers who live in insubstantial housing with and low demands for work scheduling the boundaries of sleep and waking are very fluid, time of falling asleep varies widely within and among individuals . Then there are the more basic influences on sleep such as ectoparasites which can be ‘source of night-time unease and discomfort for the human host’ leading to scratching and other movement occasioned by their activity which can further rouse other sleepers. There is also the influence of superstition and ritual on sleep with concerns about ghosts, spirits, and witchcraft influence evening activities, bedtimes, and sleeping arrangements. For example the Lese in order to avoide witchcraft go to bed around 8:00 p.m whereas the Balinese often stay up very late to participate in the important nighttime world of ritual and spiritual life. Worthman and Melby list the characteristics of western sleep settings; o low risk from pathogens, predators, the elements, enemies o solitary to single co-sleeper; o climate-controlled; o no to moderate body contact o  dearth/absence of disturbance (noise, movement, light) o  acoustically insulated o  dark o  odourless o  padded bed o smooth bedding They make no speculation as to the contribution of each of these factors’ either individually or collectively’ in shaping modern sleep and in particular in the lack of fragmentation of sleep. However these are not ‘modern’ changes, man has used fire, the original artificial light, for between 300,000-400,000 years, the oldest bed is 77,000 years and has dogs have been domesticated and used for between 18,800 and 32,100 years.  Thus one could argue that the move to consolidated (non-fragmented) sleep has been a slow process across history as humans have developed the various trappings of ‘civilisation’. Whilst the changes in our sleep environment since the industrial revolution may seem to be significant this is because they are more understandable to our modern mind i.e. we can all appreciate a comfortable bed with fresh, clean bedclothes but for most of us the need to sleep on the ground amongst our livestock in order to protect them is an alien concept. As Yasmine Musharbash found when comparing Warlpiri and Western sleep “In Euro-America, protection from what lurks in the dark thus happens by ‘shutting out’ the night and notions of care centre on having a house, having privacy in bedrooms, protecting families with keys, locks, alarm systems. Domestic fortification increases the Euro- American socio-culturally contingent sense of feeling safe (at night)” . Yasmine Musharbash ‘Night, sight, and feeling safe: An exploration of aspects of Warlpiri and Western sleep’ The Australian Journal of Anthropology (2013) 24, 48–63.  The idea that ‘pre-industrial’ sleep was somehow more ‘natural’ is a misnomer, if ever there was such a thing as ‘natural’ sleep, where man slept without any artificial influences, it can only be said to have existed the utilisation of fire. Our sleep is no more unnatural than our use of fire.
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2019