The history of sleep
We’re experiencing a sleep revolution. We can google any sleep problem we have, ask specialists for detailed advice, and create beds that pack years of research into a single mattress (like we did, in fact). Our relentless advancements have presented us with an incredible opportunity: a world where everyone everywhere can enjoy the benefits of a good night’s kip.
Even if it doesn’t feel that way when it’s 9 in the morning, you’re on your fourth coffee break, and you’re competing with your colleagues about how tired you are.
While we haven’t exactly reached peak sleep thanks to the stresses of the modern world, remember this: at least you didn’t have to get up and fend off a saber tooth tiger last night (probably, anyway). So how did our ancestors sleep when we have enough trouble in the present?
The Ice Age
You know that feeling you realise you’ve been “de-friended” on Facebook? That rush of adrenaline? It originates from the aforementioned sabre tooth tiger encounters. Our Ice Age ancestors required the ‘fight or flight’ response for survival both day and night, which is why we hold on to that (once useful) adrenalin today.
- Evidence shows that our ancestors preferred to sleep in ‘round’ beds, a little like nests, made from materials like straw. This suggests that they slept in the foetal position (which may have made them feel more secure, given the dangers of the world around them).
- Sleep was likely to have occurred in short bursts, helping them stay alert for danger.
- Our ancient ancestors probably went to sleep very soon after dusk; without artificial light, their melatonin levels would have responded to sunrise and sunset accordingly, causing them to follow the rhythms of the day.
With long hours of darkness and nothing to do, you’d have thought Neolithic people would be sleep fiends, but not so. They are likely to have slept quite lightly, always on the alert for unusual noises that might mean danger.
The Ancient Egyptians
Let’s go across the globe to the Ancient Egyptians. Of their time, the ancient Egyptians were indisputably the most advanced in their approach to sleep.
- 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 an