Medieval Sleeping Habits 2/11/22

The other day I stumbled onto an online article that got my attention (see, Mr. Jackola, I’m still paying attention) in The Atlantic titled “Can Medieval Sleeping Habits Fix America’s Insomnia?”

The writer, Derek Thompson, starts the piece with this, “At 3 a.m. I’m jolted awake. The room is dark and still. I grab my phone and scan sports scores and Twitter. Still awake. A faceless physician whispers in my mind: To overcome middle-of-the-night insomnia, experts say you ought to get out of bed …” Of course, nothing works, and he stays awake for hours.

This very form of insomnia has been hitting me hard for a long time now. I have little trouble falling asleep, especially after a grueling day of moving snow and firewood around. Reading a book on my Kindle, usually, has me going out in 10 or 15 minutes after I go to bed. But somewhere around 1 or 2 in the morning, I’m flat out awake. My mind is absorbed with one thing or another and what the meditation crowd calls my Monkey Brain is off and running. Nothing I do seems to calm it down. Even reading. And since sports scores mean nothing to me, I don’t have that to fall back on.

So this medieval sleep habit struck home with me. Turns out that in the Europe of old, before the industrial revolution, something called “segmented sleep” was how they did it. People would go to sleep with the sunset, stay asleep until around midnight, get up for a few hours, then drop back to sleep until morning. What they did in those few hours is up for speculation but since they didn’t have electricity with all the blinking blue lights and ability to check Facebook or Twitter, or running water, or central heating, one wonders why they didn’t fall right back to sleep.

At the end of the day, Mr. Thompson did not solve his midnight sleep insomnia and I guess, neither will I.

So if you happen to be awake some night between 1 and 3, think of me. I won’t be thinking of you but I will be obsessing over the amount of firewood I have for the winter. Wondering if the stove is fired up enough to keep the furnace from turning on. Thinking about how to find the entry the squirrel uses to keep getting in our crawl space. And of course, worrying about all my children and grandchildren--every night.

Published 2/11/2022   Northshore Journal