Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
BACK ‘Early Rising’, The Nonconformist, this passage does not talk about the rejection of ‘second sleep’ and being “not natural” or otherwise and the phrase quoted by Ekirch is in a very specific context he he totally ignores. It will hardly be necessary, we suppose, to caution such of our readers as have fairly established themselves in the habit of early rising against giving heed to the witticisms which have been put in circulation of late in disparagement of it. The loungers at the West-end clubs, by whom, in all probability, these jokes were coined, are not, perhaps the most reliable guide in the science of social economics, and their humorous flings at early risers are nothing more than ingenious apologies for their own late hours and morning slumbers.  Experience if it can boast of any tolerable standing, bears far too decided testimony to the advantages of early rising to admit of it being thrust aside by the merriest jest by which it can be assailed. Men may be almost as soon bantered out of their appetites as out of their habits, and these latter must be very superficial indeed if they can be whiffled away by the pleasantry of the world’s idlers. Our heroes of matutinal activity are fully competent to hold their own against all comers, whether in play or in earnest, without any literary backing, and will probably comfort themselves with the assurance that the best proof of the pudding is in the eating. There is, however, some fibre of reality in the sarcasms which have been let fly at early risers. It is true that novitiates are apt to assume an air of marvellous self-complacency as though by leaving their dreams and their beds two to three hours before the generality of people are stirring they had placed themselves above all human weakness. You may see imprinted upon their countenances, and visible even beneath the gravity of perpetually overhanging sleepiness, the unmistakable traces of self-satisfaction -the half-checked simper which is a hesitating tell-tale of the sense excited within of having achieved a feat. “I rise at five o’clock” is the boost which gleams in every expression of the face throughout the day, and which confidingly appeals to you for your compassionate consideration from beneath drooping eyelids before night has decidedly closed in. But then, you do not detect this suffused consciousness of virtue in old stagers. The great majority of the poor are of necessity early risers – quite as much so in manufacturing towns as in agricultural districts. The are accustomed to the practise from childhood. They scarcely know that it involves any self-denying exertion of the will. They would stare in bank amazement, or smile in utter incredulity, at a suggestion that the habit is a virtue, and would as soon think of taking pride in themselves for going to bed several hours before midnight. No! it is only among novices and probationers that self-gratulation waits upon early rising, and it may be pardoned in them for before custom has made the practice as familiar and as much a matter of course as washing one’s face. It has a dash of virtue in it, and may very naturally be regarded as a sort of domestic exploit. We are not about to suggest exculpatory pleas for the somnolent, but to conquer the natural disposition to indulge in morning sleep does give one, at first, a pleasant sense of the supremacy of the will. It is not to be denied that there is a special witchery in the abandonment of oneself to a snooze beyond the daylight side of the limits of legitimate repose. The influence which seals up your senses after the morning call has summoned you from dreamland, descends upon you with such delicious and seemingly irresistible power, that whilst the spell works, nothing can persuade you that it is your duty to throw it off. The moral sense is not merely torpid but confused throughout the renewed and protracted doze. There is a painful consciousness of being wronged by any decided disturbance – a nebulous conviction that the disturber cannot be fully aware of the good reasons you have for continuing your slumbers -  a kind of innate feeling that every effort made to rouse you is cruelly breaking off some course of thought or action which you have the strongest claims, in justice, to complete. Your experience is like that of one hurried away by dire necessity from an unfinished work which, if possible, you feel justified in going off to sleep again for the purpose of carrying to a conclusion. Of course, all such fancies appear absurd enough to one thoroughly roused – but, shadowy as they are, they seem to be quite solid to a judgement overpowered with drowsiness. It is this which give to the first victories of early risers such a semblance of virtuous resolution – because the moral sense and the will have to fight their first battles with the forces of Morpheus before the spell which has paralysed them is more than half removed. A triumph won over such odds is regarded as a triumph of no inconsiderable worth, and the well waked-up man gets conceited over the powers exerted by his half-sleeping self. This notion of there being a virtue in early rising for its own sake, although it is soon obliterated by persistence in the practise, is mischievous whilst it lasts. It spurs many a one into quitting his bed before he has any other convenient place in which he can stow himself away, and when he knows not what on earth to do with himself. It is held to redeem from censure sundry small naps taken at odd and uncertain hours of the day. It is commonly used as a reserve of supererogatory self-denial upon which one is at liberty to draw during the whole of his waking hours. Now, early rising is to be valued only as a means, not as an end. To those who have no plan in life and duty which two or three morning hours may help to forward, it is all but useless. It is, on the whole, safer to sleep than to dawdle away time that hangs heavy on the hands. Idleness is more open to temptation than actual slumber, and is far less conducive to evenness of temper. Mere restlessness without an object, if not a sin, borders close upon it -  at any rate, furnishes a soil in which sin readily germinates. We venture to suggest, therefore, as a desirable preliminary to early rising, a settled purpose of action to the furtherance of which it may be made to contribute. A walk or a ride, a little gardening or carpentering, reading or writing -  any pursuit, in short, which constitutes part of your established aim in life will give positive worth to an hour or two stolen from morning sleep. It cannot be gainsaid by any who have had experience in the matter that, after a reasonable term of apprenticeship has been served, the cost exacted in the shape of self-denial by early rising, is more than adequately repaid in freshness and elasticity of spirits. There are exceptions, of course – from history and personal observation bring under our noses some cases in which morning sleep seems to have been indispensable to the ordinary exertions of the day – and it is a great mistake to lay down an inflexible rule for all constitutions, or for any individual constitutions at all times. Bur, in general, Nature is in her loveliest and purest dress soon after sunrise, and her influence upon body and soul is then most penetrating and quickening. Accordingly, life is more exuberant during that portion of the day, and is pervaded by a simpler and a sounder tone. Thought is more free and unconventional - emotions less feverish. The time is favourable for activity -it is favourable also for wholesome enjoyment. Nobody who has trained himself for intellectual work, or even accustomed himself to physical recreation, in the early morning, would willingly exchange it for any other part of the four-and-twenty hours, whether for the one purpose or for the other. Early rising imparts a natural but special brightness to both. The inner man breaths more freely, and is more emphatically himself, that during, or after, the heat and burden of the day. “The dew of youth” is upon all his faculties and braces them up to the highest point of unstrained vigour. He is the more like a child in simplicity of taste, and feels more disposed to sing at his work. His views of life and duty are more cheerful and confiding, and the moral atmosphere which surrounds him is clearer and more exhilarating. It is pardonable to laugh at early risers – not so, at early rising. The practice is beyond the reach of sarcasm, though the weaknesses which are sometimes associated with it are not. And, after all, no rational man seriously means to disparage it, even when he uses it as a target for is best jokes. We doubt whether the laughers do half the harm in this case as the intemperate preachers. In this respect, it greatly resembles total abstinence - it is often injures by a zeal which is “not according to knowledge”. When it is exulted into a virtue, it well nigh ceases to be desirable. Our forefathers out the case correctly in the well known couplet. Early to bed, and early to rise, Is the way to be healthy, and wealthy, and wise It is only, or, at any rate, mainly, as the way to something beyond itself that it possesses and recommendation, or is deserving of being pursued at some cost to indulgence. It is like exercise - a good thing when the object of it is good, not else. Early rising is a servant and should be subordinate; when it becomes a master it loses its claim to respect. With the majority, however, in middle-class life, there is little fear of abuse in this direction – the tendency in the present day seems to be to make a merit of getting up late. Nevertheless, in this as in all other instances, “Wisdom is justified of her children”
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2018