Winter Sleep

Here’s a question that someone raised with me – did our ancestors sleep longer in winter? He said he’d been told that our bodies are not meant to sleep for the full winter night, that in Tudor times people would get up in the middle of the night and do their accounts or some housework then have another ‘little sleep’.

This makes no sense to me. Being in bed keeps you warm, so no need for fires. Cold weather wears you out maintaining your body temperature, so a long time in bed makes sense.

Closer to home, I once shared a house with a woman from Iceland and she definitely slept a lot more in winter and drove us mad with her early rising and late nights in summer.

Any ideas?

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9 thoughts on “Winter Sleep

  1. I think they would sleep through. Candles would be expensive, and it couldn’t do your eyes much good (pre-Specsavers too!) to be doing much detailed work like accounts by that sort of light. I would have thought that they would sleep with the sun, and have much longer days in the winter.

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  2. I think there are a few entries in Pepys’ diaries which might suggest this use of first and second sleeps, but I implore you not to ask me for a citation! There’s a bit about it in Roger Ekirch’s book ‘At day’s close’ too.
    Re working at night: speaking as cast iron insomniac, I can certainly knit successfully in very low light levels, wrapped up like a parcel if it is winter!

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