Day 9 - "Unraveling the Knitted Sleeve: Disturbances"

I find it almost comical, that after I had trouble sleeping, I should read the chapter "Unraveling the Knitted Sleeve" in Roger Ekirch's book At Days Close, as the chapter focuses on the trouble pre-industrial people had with sleeping. Thank God we no longer keep chamber pots in our rooms, as there is a whole section about the stink which kept people awake at night. 

Taken from

Taken from

This rather short chapter features a lot of interesting facts: people feared the devil in the night, or were typically plagued with bugs such as fleas or bed bugs. Ekirch stresses more than once that pre-industrial sleep was not much like many romanticize it. Near the end of the chapter he states, "chronic fatigue... probably afflicted much of the population" (299). This is not necessarily because they worked too hard, or too much, but because they slept in such awful conditions - knowledge that makes any questionable couch surfing I've done suddenly much more appealing. 

Having terrible conditions is not where it stops. People also typically slept several to a bed and had to put up with the tossing, turning, snoring, farting, and sighing of others. Further, according to Ekirch, "Most mammals, including human beings, appear to sleep best while temperatures hover between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with 77 degrees optimum" (294). I sleep with my house much cooler, but my body temperature is quite a lot lower than normal, so that may account for a few degrees. The thought of having to sleep with several other humans in one bed who prefer a warmer house sounds, to me, unpleasant. 

And so, it would seem, sleep has never been perfect, or easy for any people, at any time period, electric light or no. Ekirch talks a little about the poor man having a better sleep than the rich out of shear exhaustion. Poor workers however, were also the people sharing beds, sleeping on leaves, or dealing with bed bugs. I think I chose rich and a hard time sleeping, any day. Perhaps this is why the poor often went to sleep drunk.