checkymcfold, on Thursday, March 5th, 2009, 3:07 AM, said:
SB, do tell, what DID the people of europe do before gaslights?
(more seriously, those are the kinds of things my gf is into--should i recommend them?)
Oh, that's a fantastic book -- by all means get a copy. It traces the first purpose-built beds and bedrooms to the late Renaissance / early modern period (did you know that it was Shakespeare who coined the word "bedroom"? I mean, who'd have thought it would have taken so long to think up that word?), but more importantly traces behavior throughout the night.The author freely admits that nearly everyone assumes that all anyone did after dark was sleep and ****, but in fact, it was a time that had its own etiquette and social norms. Blaming darkness allowed social inferiors to perhaps bump roughly into a superior, even knocking them down, without recrimination, and allowed superiors to go slumming for drinks or prostitution or even just lower-class friendships that they couldn't admit to during the day. Beer brewing was considered an after-dark activity, and there were special prayers to utter during different periods of the night. Women's sewing circles often concealed more forbidden activities like dating between young people, affairs, women drinking and smoking, political organizing, etc., and were always done after dark.Most interesting is that when we depended solely on fire for our illumination, the author argues very convincingly that all of humanity had a different sleep pattern. We would go to sleep around between ten and midnight, sleep for four hours, wake up for an hour or two, then go back to sleep for a second REM cycle between four and six am and finally get up between eight and ten am. For something that virtually nobody knows anything about anymore, he provides an astonishing amount of evidence that this was a universal pattern. He recounts diaries talking about "first sleep" and "second sleep," lists the prayers that were meant to be uttered "upon waking after first sleep," quotes writers about arriving at a village at two in the morning and all the people making their way to the ale house for a glass of beer and a chat before going back home and back to sleep, etc. He even offers evidence that in Africa, where electrical light can be hundreds of miles away, this pattern still prevails, since at least a couple of tribes have terms that mean "first" and "second" sleep and have ritual periods of dream interpretation where you can go talk to the local shaman after your first sleep and have him interpret your dreams for you at two in the morning or so.Really fascinating stuff. By the way, it was a midwife's traditional advice that a married couple should go to bed and sleep first, then only have sex upon waking from first sleep, during the nighttime period of wakefulness, if they wanted to conceive (and if they didn't want more kids, they should avoid sex during that period). Studies today now confirm that fertility is higher in the wee hours of the morning than it is late at night.The advent of gaslights also allowed the advent of beat-walking cops, and the looser social rules of nighttime gradually disappeared into the same social order as daytime, and gradually we used artificial light to compress all our waking time into one long period and all our sleeping time into one uninterrupted period, generally of two REM cycles one after the other. But, also interestingly, the author notes that we may have become evolutionarily adapted to artificial light, because a fair number of people now report waking up after one REM cycle for a couple of hours. In fact, this can be one main reason people go to doctors complaining of sleep problems. Sleep specialists are beginning to look at history and believe that in fact we're just reverting to the rhythm our bodies had established for millennia.