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sleep science  |  educational, fun

A brief history of sleep

A brief history of sleep

We are at the beginning of a sleep revolution. More information is shared, retweeted and pinned on the topic on then daily basis. We don’t just sleep to live anymore, we live to sleep. 

We have science to thank for this. Our relentless advancements have presented us with an incredible opportunity: a world where everyone, everywhere can enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

We’ve come so far.

Even if it doesn’t feel that way when it’s 9 o’clock in the morning, you’re on your fourth coffee and competing with your colleagues on how tired you are. Whilst it’s easy to fall into that trap, we encourage everyone to remember this: you didn’t have to get up and fend off a saber tooth tiger last night, did you?

So what was it really like for our forefathers, we wondered…

The Ice Age

You know that feeling you realise you’ve been “de-friended” on Facebook? That rush of adrenaline? At its most basic form that was to be reserved for the aforementioned sabre tooth tiger encounters. Our Ice Age ancestors required the ‘fight or flight’ hormone for survival both day and night.

With long hours of darkness and nothing to do, you’d have thought Neolithic people would be sleep fiends, but not so. Their early beds resembled bird’s nests made from twigs and stone, tucked into the back of caves, and with night-time enemies close by, sleeping was likely to occur in short bursts.

The Ancient Egyptians

Of their time, the ancient Egyptians were indisputably the most advanced in their approach to sleep. Indeed they even established remedies for insomnia. The poppy seed (opium) was used as a hypnotic and anaesthetic.

Curing insomnia was important to them as they believed that dreaming was a state between life and death, and dreams themselves could serve as oracles and messages from the gods. Sleep temples and shrines were scattered all across Ancient Egypt and it was common practice to keep a dream diary, for later interpretation.

Although progressive in their attitude towards sleep, their environments still left much to be desired. Beds were known to dip in the middle and rise at the foot - our idea of a memory foam mattress from hell.

The Middle Ages

Simba Hybrid® Mattresses could have found their place in the early Middle Ages, where amongst the lower classes, entire families slept in the same bed to conserve warmth. Beds themselves were most commonly mattresses stuffed with hair, wool or feathers, covered with animal skins and placed on a bench or a carpet.

Hygiene was low and illness rife. This, paired with having to share grandma’s bed, meant lie-ins were probably not a priority.

Of most fascination for us today is the fact that people of the MIddle Ages slept not in one shift, but in two phases: first sleep and second sleep. First sleep begun at sunset and ended at around 2:00, when they would rise to pray, go about usual duties or procreate. After a few hours, they fell into second sleep. This biphasic sleep pattern is thought to have been the first sleep pattern adopted by early man and still exists in the animal kingdom. It is still in dispute as to whether this sleep pattern is still relevant or beneficial in this day and age.

20th century to now

Not only is the enjoyment of sleep a recent convention, so is our practice of taking our rest all at once, with biphasic sleep practice moving completely out of fashion by the 1920s.

Sleep culture became revolutionised by electricity and coffee. Lit streets, homes and late-night coffee bars set the evenings abuzz with activity, giving people the excuse to stay awake late into the evening. For the working classes, the evenings were a time of enjoyment, for the gentry they were fashionable.

Today, we’re better educated and more aware of the important role of sleep in our lives. Although sleep disorders are on the rise, so too are access to the tools to combat it. We’ve undoubtedly come so far since those early days of twigs for beds and mammoths for nighttime thrills (as opposed to the latest horror movie on Prime).

So tomorrow morning, when you’re having a moan to Brenda in Accounts about how little you’ve slept, think on your forefathers. We’re getting there and Simba is with you every step of the way.

We love all things sleep, whether it’s a sleep history fact, story or question reach out to us on social by using #simbasleep.

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