Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
BACK Ekirch quotes the proverb and takes this to mean “that going to bed "early" may have borne an altogether different meaning from retiring at the onset of darkness”. However he does not actually explain what he means by the statement, how does the proverb imply or infer anything about the meaning of ‘early’ in regards to the time of going to sleep? F. P. Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 3d edn. (Oxford, 1970), 389. One hours sleep before midnight is worth (three) two after.  (H744)  1640 HERBERT no 882. 1670 RAY 37 (two). 1829  COBBET  Adv. to Y. Men i  (1906) 35   It is said by the country-people that one hour’s sleep before midnight is worth more than two are worth after midnight; and this I believe to be a fact.   Note the oldest source from 1640 gives the idea that one hours sleep before midnight is worth 3 after and only from 1670 does the proverb equates it’s worth to 2 hours.  (The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 5th edn.) One houres sleepe before midnight is worth three after. [1640 G. Herbert Outlandish Proverbs no. 882] One hours sleep before midnight's worth two hours after. [1670 J. Ray English Proverbs 37] And this because, as experience it self shews, one hour's rest before twelve of the clock is worth two after. Francis Peck, Desiderrata curiosa: or, A Collection of Divers Scarce and Curious Pieces . . . , 2 vols. (London, 1732), 2: 33. It is said by the country-people that one hour's sleep before midnight is worth more than two are worth after midnight; and this I believe to be a fact. [1829 Cobbett Advice to Young Men i. xxxviii.] Now, Mr. Winter, remember my boys when you come up! Every hour's sleep before twelve is worth two afterwards, you know. [1937 A. Thirkell Summer Half iii.] here It is somewhat surprising that Ekirch quotes this proverb as it completely contradicts his conception that in segmented sleep “Both phases lasted roughly the same length of time” This proverb in whatever form can simple be explained by the fact that, deep, Slow Wave Sleep is predominant in the first third of the night (Horne, core sleep) and so much of the restorative benefit of sleep is achieved in that period thus given a bed time of 9 or 10 o’clock a person get most of his deep restful sleep in the hours before midnight with the sleep lighter and less refreshing in the hours after 12. Therefore this is not a statement about time but about the first part of the night (the ‘first sleep’) whenever it occurs is more refreshing and restorative than the second part. BACK
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