Historian A. Roger Ekirch has argued that before the Industrial Revolution, interrupted sleep was dominant in Western civilization. He draws evidence from more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern in documents from the ancient, medieval, and modern world. Other historians, such as Craig Koslofsky, have endorsed Ekirch's analysis. According to Ekirch's argument, adults typically slept in two distinct phases, bridged by an intervening period of wakefulness of approximately one hour. This time was used to pray and reflect, and to interpret dreams, which were more vivid at that hour than upon waking in the morning. This was also a favourite time for scholars and poets to write uninterrupted, whereas still others visited neighbours, engaged in sexual activity, or committed petty crime.
I'm tending to wake at around three and lie awake for a while every now and then, so I have decided to use what used to be called 'the watch' to catch up with blogging and correspondence etc. Thus, henceforth, if you get a message from me in the wee small hours of the morning, I haven't woken up with a panic attack necessarily, I have just fallen into the ancient habit of biphasic sleep.
“Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering—this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutary day-time advice for everyone. But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work—and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up
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