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November 30, 2017
Have you ever wondered whether the sleep advice you’re given today is rooted in history? Many believe that the need for eight consecutive hours of sleep each night is universal to all humans and has always been essential.
Most people also go to bed on their soft beds without realizing that their ancestors didn’t have it nearly as cozy.
Let’s take a look at middle age sleep habits to see how much has changed over the years.
What happens if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep? You’re likely to look at your phone, turn on the television or sip some tea, all the while worrying that exhaustion is going to greet you come morning. This is because the modern lifestyle forces most people to get all their sleep in one continuous session. If you don’t get what you need before the alarm clock sounds, you’re going to need a couple extra cups of coffee to get through the day.
However, in the Middle Ages, it was common for people to go to bed early, wake up for a few hours in the early morning hours, and then go back to sleep until their natural alarm clock sounded. They even visited neighbors during that midnight gap. Those who chose to go to bed late were the exception because they would often skip the midnight visits and just sleep until morning.
The next time you struggle to sleep through the night or wonder why your body naturally wants to stay awake until two in the morning, remember how your ancestors slept. They followed the natural desires of their bodies and were often wide awake in the middle of the night. Perhaps your brain also prefers the midnight gap.
How and where you slept in the Middle Ages depended on your station in life. The lowest classes were treated as servants during the day and often slept with nothing more than their coat for warmth. They often had no bed at all while the upper classes enjoyed small cottage bedrooms with fires providing warmth. They slept on hard slabs covered in moss or another soft material, and they were kept warm with blankets and nightclothes.
In some cases, straw pallets were provided for servants and people of the lower classes. While these were far from comfortable, they were at least better than cuddling up on the floor on a cold night. These pallets were sometimes placed on the floor right beside a larger bed, so the sleepers at least had the warmth of the fire when allowed to sleep in the bedroom.
The richest people did have mattresses and beds that were early versions of what we sleep on today. These mattresses were incredibly expensive and were typically thin material stuffed with a comforting material found readily in nature. People in the upper classes were likely to have the warmest and most flattering night clothes and were more likely to have fires to keep their sleeping quarters warm.
Now that you know how people slept in the middle ages, do you have more gratitude for your warm, soft bed? You can give thanks to technology for revolutionizing the way you sleep. You may also want to extend this conversation into the future. What will beds look like in 20 or 50 years? Will humans still need eight hours of sleep in the future?