Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
BACK 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” and as evidence for this quotes the nocturnal activities in the villages of the Tiv, Chagga, and G/wi,  “Anthropologists have found villages of the Tiv, Chagga, and G/wi, for example, in Africa to be surprisingly alive after midnight with newly roused adults and children”. The reference to Gutmann is for a 404 page book and Ekirch’s reference is infuriatingly vague however using the eHRAF database and using the search terms ‘night’ ‘sleep’ ‘midnight’ the only quote that can come any where close to Ekirch’s statement occurs on page 122 “If you get up from your sleep and don't hear your mother-in-law talking to you, go and greet her first and ask her for news. She will be very happy about that.” This is not a description of the villages being “surprisingly alive after midnight with newly roused adults and children” However, the actual quotes that he draws on merely talk about people being awake at all hours of the night e.g.  “A G/wi camp never has an uninterrupted night's sleep. There is always someone awake, adding wood to the household fire, eating a snack, seeing to a child, listening to a strange noise in the bush, or keeping watch if dangerous animals are near. For this reason the divisions of the night are almost as important as those of the day when it comes to relating the events of the 24hour period.” here  Interestingly despite the fact that divisions of the night are almost as important as those of the day the most frequently use time measurements by the G/wi make no mention of anything related to ‘first sleep’ or ‘second sleep’ “The most frequently used time measurements are the diel divisions: !u:!xaisa (morningnight); first light ghiu//xa://xa: (burn [becomes] warm); dawn //aba n/i ≠'kwa (light has emerged); sunrise /ama n/i //o (sun has [become] warm); morning /ama n/i //xa: (sun has [become] warm — warmer than //o); midmorning, forenoon k'woni (specific term); midday g!ua (specific term); midafternoon g//ua (descend); late afternoon es wa haiswa (she [the sun] is in the hole); sunset es n/i ≠'he (she [the sun] has fallen); sunset //haosa (specific term); dusk !xais n/i ha: (night has come); late evening, until zodiacal light disappears g//o: !xais (big, proper night); after about 10 P.M. g/as:s kje (midnight stand, i.e., has arrived); midnight !u:s n/i xao (morning has cut); false dawn; when the eastern horizon begins to lighten !u:s n/i xao !xanakxi (morning has cut closedface); when stars begin to fade” With regards to the Tiv the full passage is “Babies and children are not trained to take naps, nor, so far as that goes, to “get a good night’s sleep”a concept alien to Tiv.  Adults nap during the day in snatches of leisure, or when they feel like it; at night, they wake when they will and talk with anyone else awake in the hut, or, if there is a moon, people stay outside working and chatting. Children follow this pattern. Day or night they are to be seen playing or napping, at pleasure, indoors and out in the environs of adults. They are never told, ‘It is time to go to sleep’.” Neither of these are a description of the villages being “surprisingly alive after midnight with newly roused adults and children” as Ekirch contends but simply a description of fragmented sleep throughout the night. Support for this interpretation comes from the work of Aubert and White  who surveyed the anthropological reports on numerous ‘primitive societies’ including the Tiv who state 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. Thus even though peoples like the Siriono and the Ituri Pygmies are reported to engage in a good deal of such activity throughout the night we consider them as sleeping simultaneously.” Worthman and Melby (pages 75-82) in their review also 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”. P77  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 P79. 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.  However nowhere do they describe anything that would fit Ekirch’s conception of segmented sleep. One of the seemingly most persuasive pieces of evidence that Ekirch offers for his hypothesis 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 is the occurrence of the phrases ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’ in one particular pre- industrial society, the Tiv. This ‘fact’ has been endlessly repeated by Ekirch and others whenever  ‘segmented sleep’ is mentioned. However I do not believe that the interpretation given by Ekirch can be supported by the original text. Referencing the work of Bohannan4 Ekirch states that “The Tiv even employs the terms "first sleep" and "second sleep" as traditional intervals of time”. However the actual description given by Bohannan is far more nuanced than the interpretation given by Ekirch; “The Tiv are much less specific about time during the night. The time between dusk and about 10 o'clock is called "sitting together" (teman imongo). After that follows "the middle of the night" (helato tugh), which overlaps with the "time of the first sleep" (icin i mnya mom); "the time of the second sleep" (acin a mnya ahar) is about 3 AM or a bit later. The pre-dawn breeze (kiishi) gives its name to the period just before dawn”. The full quote gives the impression that ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleep are merely intervals of time rather than signifiers of distinct, separate, periods of sleep. It is also somewhat problematic to Ekirch’s conception that ‘preindustrial’ ‘segmented sleep’ was/is biphasic that a more recent source seemingly missed by Ekirch, states that the Tiv also have a phrase for the “time of the third sleep” which also occurs before Kishi (the pre-dawn breeze) (Ichin imya mon - time of first sleep; Ichin imya ahar- time of second sleep; Ichin imya atar - time of third sleep). (Gbenda JS Eschatology in Tiv Traditional Religious Culture: An Interpretative Enquiry, Nairobi, Chuka Educational Publishers, 2005 p55). Therefore the only occurrence of ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleep in the anthropological literature does not offer any convincing evidence for the existence of biphasic ‘preindustrial’ ‘segmented’ sleep in non-western societies. BACK
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2018