Today I read Chapter 10 in Roger Ekirch's book At Day's Close. The chapter is a bit of a lead in to sleeping pre-industrially. This section has 4 chapters, all of which have a slightly different focus. I'm going to keep this brief because USA v. Portugal.
The chapter was split into four sections, each focusing on different ideas. The most interesting to me were the ones that discussed digestion and beds. I love two things in life right now: food and material theory.
In the first section, Ekirch explains that in the late 16th century, learned peoples believed that the digestion of a meal is what caused people to eventually sleep. For example, one Thomas Cogan (1588), explains that "fumes ascend to the head 'where through coldnesse of the braine, they being congealed doe stop the conduites and waies of the senses, and so procure sleepe'" (263). - My immediate question then becomes - what happens if I don't eat all day? Do I not, then, sleep? And why didn't anyone test this out?
The other bit I find fascinating is that apparently, for people who could afford it, a bed was the most expensive item that many middle-type class people would own. Oftentimes whole families would sleep in a giant bed together. Many times the matresses would be stuffed with feathers, or old rags. And a lot of people believed that a soft bed would lead to sloth and stupidity.
As we might guess, no one could decide the proper length of needed human sleep, and no one studied women, or their sleep needs. It wouldn't be until the late 20th century that anyone finally gets around to that.