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. The most damning evidence, in my opinion, for the idea that ‘segmented sleep’ was not the the predominant pattern of sleep before the Industrial Revolution” is the simple fact that despite all the ‘evidence‘ that Ekirch quotes he is semingly unable to present a single description of segmented slumber i.e. “first sleep” followed by a period of an hour or so awake followed by “second sleep”. I have perhaps been luckier in that I have found a couple of examples that are an approximation of the phenomena hypothesised by Ekirch,  “That dreaming is a less sound species of sleep, appears from the familiar fact, which has probably been observed by every individual; viz. that the first sleep is much freer from it than the second. We retire to rest, fatigued by the exertions of the day, and sleep soundly for five or six hours: we wake, and then fall asleep again towards the morning, and dream the whole time of this second sleep.” The Cyclopædia: Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature, Volume 33 Abraham Rees - 1 January 1819 here The following passage from 1795 concerning a Doctor makes it quite clear that the writer,  at least, believes his hours are ‘singular’ i.e. unique, uncommon.  “His hours of study were singular. Being much occupied through the day with those who applied to him as a physician, he went early to bed, rose about two or three in the morning, and, after applying to his studies for some hours, went to bed again and slept an hour or two before breakfast.”  A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary: Containing an Explanation of the Terms, and an Account of the Several Subjects, Comprized Under the Heads Mathematics, Astronomy, and Philosophy Both Natural and Experimental, C. Hutton, page 557 here Another passage from 1777 also hints that this sort of behaviour is not the norm Boswell I mentioned that Lord Monboddo told me, he awaked every morning at four, and then for his health got up and walked in his room naked, with the window open, which he called taking an air bath; after which he went to bed again, and slept two hours more. Johnson, who was always ready to beat down any thing that seemed to be exhibited with disproportionate importance, thus observed: 'I suppose, Sir, there is no more in it than this, he awakes at four, and cannot sleep till he chills himself, and makes the warmth of the bed a grateful sensation.'' Boswells Life of Johnson, Volume 3  here  Quotes given concern solely ‘first sleep’ and this is particularly clear regarding the examples that he gives for French, Latin and Italian which exclusively relate to ‘first sleep’. Ekirch claims that “The initial interval of slumber was usually referred to as "first sleep," or, less often, "first nap" or "dead sleep."” equating first sleep to deade sleep just imply deep sleep Ekirch found sixty-three references to ‘first sleep’ within a total of fifty-eight different sources from the period 1300–1800, however he does not list all of these sources nor give the actual usage in each of them, therefore one must assume that the examples that he actually does quote are the most illustrative of his argument. However while it may be true that there are many more examples than Ekirch quotes found showing that there was a widespread use of the term ‘first sleep’, only a few that I have found (as noted above) support the idea of ‘segmented sleep’.
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2018