Americans have worried themselves into a tizzy over the lack of sleep they’re getting — so much so that they’re doping themselves to sleep.
So much the pity.
First off, it’s not like they have to worry about bedbugs, coldness, wild weather or pollution from trying to heat the house. We’re also healthier than ever, meaning not only do we sleep well but so do those around us; and the poor have benefitted mightily, allowing them to do a full day’s work.
Second, it’s not as if the folks back then slept all night, even when they were able to do so comfortably. Their sleep was broken up into two parts, with a late night wakefulness to take care of business, or meditation or prayer…or pleasure, if both people were in the mood (and not necessarily the husband and wife, methinks…).
So what causes our present version of sleep, its one-segment throughout the night? Late night lighting. Remove late-night lighting from the night, and after a few weeks we shift to the historical version of sleep: sleep early, awake a little time at night, then sleep into the morning.
And that night wakefulness is different than the regular wakefullness we know and loathe. It’s a calm version of wakefullness; an almost-welcome moment of peace which allows us to view the world in a more benign light. A period of time when you can be busy with your thoughts without the cares of the day invading — is it any wonder the night has been praised throughout history?
It’s also possible that our modern problem of Insomnia may be nothing more than the attempt of the body to return to its former pattern of sleep. Our attempts to impress on it the modern version of sleep (one long lock) may cause us more grief than relief.
I remember when I was going to college that I would nap whenever I got the chance. It was always during the later part of the afternoon, between the business of the day and the activities of the night; and almost always for an hour or two. I always liked it, as it allowed me an early-ish morning and a late night.
Now maybe it turns out that if I had gone to bed a bit earlier in the evening, I could have had a more enjoyable few hours late at night, with the poets and other nightlife, with a more peaceful mind and calmer presence.