Ponderings with Doug

Did any of you get up on the “wrong side of the bed” this morning?

There is something even worse than “getting up on the wrong side of the bed.” It’s eating breakfast across from someone who “got up on the wrong side of the bed.” Nothing starts the day off on a more sour note than a crabby crash encounter with a wrong-side-of-bed person while you are both still in your pajamas.

These days the overwhelming scapegoat for our a.m. bad behavior is “sleep deprivation.” All the talk shows and on-line docs decry the blood-shot, bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived state of our Union.

But are we really sleep deprived? Or are we just waking badly?

Before the comforts of electricity, central heat and/or air conditioning, sleeping “through the night” was unheard of. Especially in the wintertime when someone had to keep the fire going so the family would not freeze to death.

Let’s think back a century or more. . . when houses were smaller, the number of young children typically large, and the continual needs of livestock on a farm more demanding than anything we can comprehend. Live like our ancestors and the myth of a good night’s sleep seems even more distant. Half of Indiana still refuses to go on the government-standard “daylight savings time” because milk cows just “don’t get it.” Farmers know that Washington D.C. can say “spring forward” all they want. But Bossy still needs to be milked at 5 a.m. — HER 5 a.m., or everyone will “fall backward.”

Ask farmers. Ask big families with small children. Ask central heating challenged households. All have never known about some magic “eight hours” of sleep.

In fact, earlier cultures embraced the night, accepting that while it might be a time of different activities, or even of “rest,” it was not necessarily a time for sustained sleep. In fact, our ancestors most often lived out of a tradition of “two sleeps.”

Every 24 hours used to be divided into a day of “work” and a night of “two sleeps.” When the sun set and the warmth left the air, it was time for the “early sleep.” But the demands of keeping a warm house, tending to children, or just keeping an attentive ear out for intruders, necessarily meant this “early sleep” might be brief. After waking from a couple hours of “first sleep,” this gap of time in the midst of the night was a traditional moment for personal prayer and meditation, tending the fire, reading by candlelight (for those wealthy enough to afford candles) and quiet contemplation. This “personal time” in the middle of the night brought meaning and purpose to a life crowded with noise and people and duties.

But then it was time for “second sleep,” the second shift of sleep that hopefully took the sleeper to just before dawn.

The question upon rising for our ancestors, then, was not “How did you sleep?” but “Did you wake well?” And which “waking” was better, our first waking or your second waking?

Perhaps “waking well” is an endangered species. But it seems scripture is filled with the admonition to “wake up.” Perhaps there was something to the gap between the sleeps.


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