Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
BACK Ekirch offers absolutely no evidence to support his statement that “Indeed, notwithstanding idyllic stereotypes of repose in simpler times, early modern slumber remained highly vulnerable to intermittent disruption, much more so, in all likelihood, than does sleep today.” It is a nonsense to suggest that ‘early modern’ slumber was any more “vulnerable to intermittent disruption” than ‘sleep today, for to do so would imply that there has been a change in the basic physiology of sleep. It would perhaps be correct to say that there were certainly different things disturbing ‘early modern slumber’ than there are today, and one could speculate that there were perhaps more things to disturb sleep things to disturb early modern slumber then there are today however that is a very different thing.“ Ekirch does not seem to  consider the possibility that given the fact that he believes that “early modern slumber remained highly vulnerable to intermittent disruption” this explains why the majority of occurrences of ‘first sleep are of people being woken or disturbed from their ‘first sleep’ and not as Ekirch contends “Customary usage confirms that "first sleep" constituted a distinct period of time followed by an interval of wakefulness. Typically, descriptions recounted how an aroused individual had "had," "taken," or "gotten" his or her "first sleep.” “Despite elaborate precautions taken by households, many early references to sleep contain such adjectives as "restless," "troubled," and "frighted."” But such adjectives are hardly unknown in modern descriptions of disturbed sleep a simple Google search will show numerous that many modern descriptions using exactly the same adjectives  Herbert's Devotions: or, A Companion for a Christian . . . (London, 1657) this regards  “His waking in the morning” and it states that “I have sweetly rested this night, free from terrors, sights, noises, dreames and paines, which afflict manie men” This suggest that, at least for the author, it was perfectly normal to have ‘sweetly rested’ through the night, which is contrary to Ekirch’s assertion 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.” Edmund Spenser quoted in Deverson, Journey into Night, 133 actually this is simply the poem Epithalamion here Now welcome night, thou night so long expected, That long daies labour doest at last defray, And all my cares, which cruell love collected, Hast sumd in one, and cancelled for aye: Spread thy broad wing over my love and me, That no man may us see, And in thy sable mantle us enwrap, From feare of perrill and foule horror free. Let no false treason seeke us to entrap, Nor any dread disquiet once annoy The safety of our joy: But let the night be calme and quietsome, Without tempestuous storms or sad afray: Lyke as when Jove with fayre Alcmena lay, When he begot the great Tirynthian groome: Or lyke as when he with thy selfe did lie, And begot Majesty. And let the mayds and yongmen cease to sing: Ne let the woods them answer, nor theyr eccho ring. Let no lamenting cryes, nor dolefull teares, Be heard all night within nor yet without: Ne let false whispers, breeding hidden feares, Breake gentle sleepe with misconceived dout. Let no deluding dreames, nor dreadful sights Make sudden sad affrights; Ne let housefyres, nor lightnings helpelesse harmes, Ne let the Pouke, nor other evill sprights, Ne let mischivous witches with theyr charmes, Ne let hob Goblins, names whose sence we see not, Fray us with things that be not. Let not the shriech Oule, nor the Storke be heard: Nor the night Raven that still deadly yels, Nor damned ghosts cald up with mighty spels, Nor griesly vultures make us once affeard: Ne let th'unpleasant Quyre of Frogs still croking Make us to wish theyr choking. Let none of these theyr drery accents sing; Ne let the woods them answer, nor theyr eccho ring. But let stil Silence trew night watches keepe, That sacred peace may in assurance rayne, And tymely sleep, when it is tyme to sleepe, May poure his limbs forth on your pleasant playne, The whiles an hundred little winged loves, Like divers fethered doves, Shall fly and flutter round about your bed, And in the secret darke, that none reproves, Their prety stelthes shal worke, and snares shal spread To filch away sweet snatches of delight, Conceald through covert night. Ye sonnes of Venus, play your sports at will, For greedy pleasure, carelesse of your toyes, Thinks more upon her paradise of joyes, Then what ye do, albe it good or ill. All night therefore attend your merry play, For it will soone be day: Now none doth hinder you, that say or sing, Ne will the woods now answer, nor your Eccho ring. Quarles, Complete Works, 2: 206; here  “Our sleep is oft accompanied with Frights, Distracting Dreams and dangers of the nights” October 12, 1703, Cowper Diary “When I have some eager naughty servants robb me of peace this night I could have slept but thrice disasters hindered me” Lady Charlotte Bury, The Diary of a Lady-in-Waiting, A. F. Steuart, ed., 2 vols. (London, 1908), 1: 31 On the night of July 27th 1810 Lady Charlotte Bury without giving any reason or further explanation writes that she  here  “Slept restlessly and ill”  Richard Brathwait, Natures Embassie: or, The Wilde-mans Measvres (London, 1621), 120; here  “Rauing Orefles heard a furious crie. Which did attend his phrenfie to his graue, And did difturbe his reftleffe fleepe thereby. So asfaue troubled dreames He nought could haue: With many broken fleepes, tofhew his guilt. Of his deare mothers bloud, which He hadfpilt.” Despite being referenced by Ekirch in this section the following 3 quotes do not use “such adjectives as "restless," "troubled," and "frighted”."  The first two refer to how being in love can break your sleep, surely a the very opposite of being "troubled” or "frighted”. Thomas Shadwell, The Miser (London, 1672), 18; “I protest and vow, I have a very great affection for you; the very thoughts of you, has often broke my sleep; and made me fetch many a sigh”. George Powell, The Imposture Defeated: or, A Trick to Cheat the Devil (London, 1698), 28; “Happy we who Free from Love, Have no cares to break our Sleep” April 4, 1782, Journal of Peter Oliver, Egerton Manuscripts, British Library, London; Benjamin Mifflin, "Journal of a Journey from Philadadelphia to the Cedar Swamps&Back, 1764," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 52 (1928): 130–31. merely enumerates 10, essentially timeless, things that disturbed the sleep of a traveller “Lodged at Hemming's & shar'd the Fate of the Egyptian Monarch being persecuted in at Least Ten Plagues,as 1. A Male Bedfellow 2. A very restless one 3d. The Stink of the Candle-snuff which he blew out on coming to bed 4th. Buggs. 5th Musquittoes. 6. The grunting & groaning of a Person asleep in the next room 7. The Mewing of a Cat in my room which obliged me to get up twice to turn her out 8. The rumaging of a Negro Wench about the room for the candle with a cole of fire in her hand. 9th The noise she made at a Bugg or other insect getting into her ear 10th & Lastly with myself being so often disturb'd could not compose myself to rest for a Long time” Supplément a L'Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers . . . , 4 vols. (1777; rpt. edn., New York, 1969), 4: 809. does indeed identify “numerous obstacles to sleep” however none of these are exactly unknown in modern times. "Hunger prevents sleeping, indigestion, any irritating cause that constantly agitates some part of the body, the cold in one part of the body, feet for example, while the rest is covered, violent sounds, anxieties & annoyances, a preoccupation, melancholy, mania, pain, shiverings, warm drinks, drunk from time to time, like tea, coffee, several diseases of the brain that are not yet well determined, all these prevent sleep." BACK
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2018