Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
BACK ‘Early Rising’, Saturday Review, 22 Mar. 1862, 326. The actual quote appears on page 325 not 326 as stated by Ekirch. I cannot see given the context of the article how it in anyway reinforces  “an unquestioning adherence to the new normality of seamless sleep” EARLY RISING. THE winter being well over, it is allowable to touch on a subject too oppressive for weak nerves whilst nights are long and days are short. In the month of March we do not feel that thrill of discomfort at the mention of early rising which is common to well constituted minds in the month of December. We gain courage as the season advances, and may now smile at matutinal miseries that cast a cloud over us a month or two since. It is interesting to reflect upon the change that comes over a man's mind on waking up early in the morning after what is called a good night's rest. He retired to bed with rather a good opinion of himself. His conversation, in his own opinion at least, had been, if not decidedly brilliant,  essentially agreeable. He had accomplished rather a neat bon mot,  unearthed an apt quotation, turned graceful compliment in honour of a fair neighbour whose beaming eyes evinced that it was duly appreciated, and delivered himself of a few well-constructed sentences on a subject under discussion with so much effect hat respectful silence on all sides proved him to be master of the situation. He was pleased with the part he had played— affable but not familiar with the men, delicately attentive but not vulgarly demonstrative with the womankind. He reflects with some degree of complacency on the whole tenor of the evening, and even gives way to some faint misgiving whether he really deserves to be so successful in society as he is usually admitted to be. His eyes softly close in tranquil slumber, whilst he is forming a dim resolution to render his claims to general approbation more thoroughly substantial than is now the case. Morning breaks—a winter morning of darkness visible— chilly and grim, " no light, but a wannish glare." The man struggles once more into consciousness, and— pending that abominable rap at the door that, for the time being, elevates the servant to a master and depresses the master to abject servitude— he collects his somewhat obfuscated senses, and thinks upon his general position, past, present, and future. Last night's career of social and intellectual success naturally claims his earliest attention. What a very unpleasant change steals over the aspect of affairs!  He had bade adieu to the company, not elated, not excited— simply satisfied with himself, and on good terms with everybody else— wrapped in a mild glow of tranquil self-complacency. What has become of it all?  He does not look at the matter by any means from the same point of view. Words, smiles, looks, gestures recur to him. Was he altogether so successful, so ingratiating and impressive, as he fondly imagined? A mist of doubt begins to spread over the scene. That bon mot hovered on the edge of absurdity. That quotation was just a trifle stale. Was the gleam of light that danced in the eyes of his fair neighbour, when he turned that easy compliment, a token of grateful pleasure or an indication of suppressed merriment at his expense? Was that respectful silence a tribute of public homage or an avowal of universal fatigue? In short, did he not make himself rather a bore? Was he not a little absurd? Did he not, on the whole, and speaking dispassionately, make a fool of himself? Such are the unwelcome thoughts that grate upon the waking mind as the first rays of a wintry sun begin to whiten the eastern sky. You feel exceedingly small. You are ready to apologize to all your acquaintances, individually and collectively. You meditate vaguely upon retiring from the world, embarking for Australia, or subsiding into a Lilliputian lodging at a fifth-rate watering- place in Devon or Somerset. Probably, however, your satisfaction the night before and your despondency at break of day are equally exaggerated. Probably you did not make a fool of yourself, but probably also you did not electrify the public with either your wisdom or your wit. You were about as agreeable as anybody else, neither more nor less. The waking up of a morning is indeed a sort of double process— a shaking off both of bodily slumber and of mental delusion— but its first shock is often over-harsh, and drives us from undue contentment into morbid self-abasement. The balance is only regained as the day advances and the judgement resumes its natural sway. But suppose yourself waked up and wrenched out of your bed by that inevitable and despotic rap at the door. If you are an early riser, we do not pity you one jot as you struggle through the various stages of what is called" getting up." An early riser is, commonly speaking, conceited to a degree very painful to the general public. There is a vulgar freshness in his face, and a radiant hilarity in his eye when he greets you at breakfast— an obtrusive tendency to speak of the temperature out of doors and the beauty f the sunrise— an impertinent inquisitiveness as to how long you have been down stairs— suggestive of a mind provokingly self-complacent and absurdly arrogant. An early riser is amply compensated for all his sufferings by an overweening sense of superiority over the weaker members of society. A valued friend once told us, in an oracular tone of voice, that “It was a wholesome thing to begin the day by an act of self-denial," i.e. to get up early. The observation made a deep impression. But, accidentally discovering that our friend was particularly fond of a quiet extra hour or so in bed, the remark lost its point, and we have ever since experienced increased difficulty in performing the act of self-denial referred to. Habit, no doubt, can do anything in reason, and, to many, early rising is a matter of course. It is, to those who have the use of it, "as easy as lying." Yet we can enter somewhat into the feelings of the officer who, having retired from the army, directed his servant to awake him every morning at six o'clock with the intelligence, “Sir, the officers' call has sounded, and the general is on the parade!"— for the simple object of triumphantly anathematizing the general and turning round to take another nap. The sting of early rising chiefly consists in its being imperative. Where it is optional— where a man may lie in bed if he chooses— the effort of rising is less serious, the shock to the whole system less tremendous, than when the obligation is absolute. But, to some men, not to get up at the appointed hour represents an almost criminal degree of weakness and vacillation. Partly from a sense of moral duty, partly from a tender regard for their own self- respect; they spring out of bed at the dreaded signal with a self-approving conscience, but with a countenance of the deepest dejection. An eminent agriculturist, now deceased, who for many years represented a midland county in Parliament, was wont, when his amateur labours required him to rise at a preternaturally early hour, to adopt the ingenious expedient of going to bed with his clothes on overnight. It took off the edge, as it were, of early rising and broke the neck of the enterprise. We cannot say whether the gentleman carried out the device to all its logical conclusions, and washed his hands and face overnight also. In any case it was a half-and-half mode of proceeding— neither one thing nor the other— neither sitting up all night nor getting up betimes— a piece of practical sophistry objectionable both for mind and body. In the British army under the Duke of Kent's regime, dodges of this kind were indeed essential. Officers of all ranks were rigorously compelled to appear on parade every morning with their pigtails stiff with powder and pomatum. But the capability of regimental barbers-was limited. It was impossible to dress more than a given number of pigtails in a given time. Thus the luckless juniors of the regiment were compelled to resign their pigtails to the barber's hands overnight, and, in order to keep them in proper trim, sleep with their heads upon a bench and their precious pigtails securely pendent in mid-air. Then, at the sound of the bugle, they sprang up from their embarrassing position, and rushed to the parade ground or the battle-field, ready to show their pigtails to the Duke or their faces to the enemy. A regimental surgeon, present with the army at the period referred to, himself told us that for weeks he lived perpetually ensconced in buckskin breeches, and, if we mistake not, when the garment needed a fresh coating of- pipeclay, the worthy man had to stand patiently before a large fire, slowly revolving like a joint of meat until the pipeclay was dry, and he could make a creditable appearance on parade. To return to bona fide early rising, where you not only get up from a horizontal position, but struggle with mechanical energy through the task of dressing— that badge and burden of civilized humanity. However conscientious maybe our views in respect of early rising ,there are occasions when it is prudent to hold them in abeyance. For example, on a visit to a friend's house. You may be a man of cheerfully active habits— impatient of bed— eager to inhale the morning air. But do not, till you are acquainted with the internal regulations of the household, rashly spurn the hospitable couch, and issue from your chamber at the early hour to which you are accustomed in your own home. We will assume that you are able to dress yourself without the assistance of a valet, regard hot water as a debilitating luxury, and can find your way tolerably well about a strange house. In the grey dawn, amidst profound stillness, you traverse the passages and descend the stairs. Your boots creak pertinaciously— each door you open slams after you with a noise like the report of a cannonade, and in joyousness of heart you whistle a bar or two of your favourite air — unconscious all the while that you are startling a dozen ladies and gentlemen from refreshing slumber, and inflicting a twelve hours' headache on your amiable but much disconcerted hostess. Below stairs all is dark and silent as the family vault at the parish church. You march onward, wander through unknown passages blunder into the billiard-room and upset three cues on the uncarpeted floor, finally reach the drawing-room, and, after pinching your finger severely, succeed in opening the shutters. You have not much time to meditate on the dreary aspect of an apartment that is exactly in the same state as it was when you left it overnight, because you are suddenly assailed by a pet lap- dog, asthmatic but vicious, who takes you for a burglar and flies at your legs with yells of fury. Under these circumstances, the prudent course is to take to your heels; and if you can get out of the room without tumbling over an ottoman placed conveniently in your way, or smashing a set of mother-of-pearl chessmen-with which you had check mated your host the night before, you are a very fortunate man. It is wise, therefore, on your first -visit to a friend's house, to repress " early rising" propensities, and feel the pulse of the household by waiting till you are called. Some families, on the other hand, are so uncommonly early as to cause embarrassment of another kind. The guest is wakened in the midst of what he supposes his first sleep by a dull grating sound in the room below. It is pitch dark. He sits up in bed, rubs his eyes, and listens. The noise continues; and the guest, who is of an anxious turn of mind, springs out of bed with sudden energy. There are decidedly thieves in the house. Striking a light, he seizes the poker, hastens downstairs between sleeping and waking, bursts into the library with dishevelled hair and staring eyes, and the bedroom poker feebly vibrating in his hands. There is an appalling shriek, and he beholds the housemaid's upturned face white with alarm at the startling apparition. She has been simply engaged in raking out the ashes from the library grate preparatory to lighting the fire. The household is one that rises early, and the clock on the stairs is striking six. Careful masters and mistresses, as well as conscientious early risers, are addicted to the use of an alarum. This is, however, a piece of mechanism very apt to get out of repair, either through domestic treachery or from constitutional infirmity. The ingenious little instrument, having been set for seven in the morning, utters its horrible outcry the very instant you are warm in bed, or remains dumb and never sounds at all until sometime in the middle of next week. But the most effectual method of promoting habits of early rising was that presented to the public at the Great Exhibition in '51. It consisted of a bed which, through the operation of an unseen system of clockwork, gently tilted you out upon the floor at any hour you thought proper. There could be no mistake about getting up under such circumstances. It was an action of ejectment which no ingenuity could evade, and no amount of obstinacy resist. Whether any one bought that bed we have never heard, but we trust to see some new varieties of the article, at the forthcoming Exhibition. The principle might indeed be carried further. Chairs and sofas, fitted up with the requisite machinery, might be wound up and adjusted for dismissing their occupants abruptly on the floor after a lapse of time previously determined upon. Morning visitors belonging to the genus bore, or gentlemen addicted to sitting too long over their wine after dinner, might in this manner receive notice to quit in unmistakeably plain terms. If the patentees of that remarkable bed are wise, they will, on its second presentation to the public at the approaching Exhibition, paste on the foot board in good clear type the argument in favour of early rising afforded in a case on the Western Circuit. It was somewhere down in Cornwall that a learned judge was struck by the number of very old men who appeared as witnesses whether for plaintiff or defendant. His Lordship at length blandly interrogated one of these aged Cornishmen. How came he to live to so great an age? Was he sober? Not particularly. Was he, generally speaking, a prudent and decorous member of society? The implied compliment was modestly but decisively declined. What then was the meaning of his being so exceedingly old ? The simple explanation at last extracted was, that the man was an " early riser." We may note with regard to this anecdote, first, that men in the country— rustics of all ages— invariably rise early ; secondly, that if a man goes to bed drunk, he is not likely to be up with the lark next morning, and consequently early rising implies a tolerable degree of sobriety, and sobriety is on the whole favourable to longevity. We do not therefore attach much value to this illustration of the sanitary results of early rising. But it will take with the multitude, and we therefore commend it to the notice of the patentees of that wonderful bed. We began with describing the depressing influence of early morning on a man who had retired to rest, a few hours before, exceedingly well pleased with himself. We will conclude by glancing at the subject from another point of view. The over-complacent man awakes to a wholesome sense of his insignificance. On the other hand, the man who went to rest baffled and heart-sore with many anxieties, or stunned by a reverse of fortune, often—indeed generally— when thoroughly awake next morning, feels his nerves braced up to meet the emergency. It is alleged by certain physiologists that ,if we dismiss a subject on which we are anxious wholly from our thoughts, and turn our attention to other matters, the mind will, in a sort of unconscious way, work stealthily at the problem that distressed us, and when we come back to it, after a day or two's pause, we shall find often times a satisfactory solution ready, or at least a clue to extricate us partially from our troubles. In this way, no doubt, the comfort and assistance derived from a night's rest may be easily explained, if indeed any more abstruse explanation be required than that afforded by the refreshment which repose yields to the wearied body, and change of thought to the fagged and exhausted brain. As in most things, so in this. We believe that the via media is the safest road— that moderate early rising is a wholesome practice, but that early rising carried to an extreme forestalls your strength fur the coming day, throws you out of gear with society, a makes you generally disagreeable to your family and your friends. Note that the phrase “The guest is wakened in the midst of what he supposes his first sleep by a dull grating sound in the room below” 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.” BACK
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