Today’s Daily Prompt from WordPress, Because the Night – Are you a night owl or are you the early bird? – and being on holiday over Easter – has made me realise that I’m most productive as a writer, and most cheerful as a human being, when I’m a slave to no routine or alarm clock (or birdsong!). Left to my own devices, I adopt a segmented sleeping pattern which Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech has written about in his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past – you can read more in this BBC article.
Ekirch’s book, based on 16 years of research, claims that before the industrialised world took hold, humans slept in two distinct chunks, not in one eight hour stretch, and this is definitely a pattern I easily adopt when my normal everyday pressures are suspended. Often, my best reading, writing, re-drafting – and thinking – comes after my “first sleep”, at about 4am – 6am.
My preferred routine looks something like this:
- Midnight – 4am – bed and sleep.
- 4am – 6am – still in bed but reading and writing.
- 6am – 9am – second sleep.
- 9am – get up.
If it’s not too dark or cold, I make myself a cup of tea at 4 or 5am and bring it back to drink in bed (bliss!). On heavenly days, and if he’s not working away from home, my husband, Andrew, brings me an early cup of tea in bed (he frequently gets up before 5am to catch an early train or sometimes because he feels he’s had enough sleep by then). I sip my tea while reading and writing (I keep piles of books and notepaper at the foot of my bed) and then snuggle down for my “second sleep” and wake, at around 9am, feeling completely refreshed. I know I’m not alone in enjoying a hot drink at this hour – read this delicious quote from an early English Ballad called Old Robin of Portingale which Ekirch includes in his book:
And at the wakening of your first sleepe
You shall have a hott drinke made,
And at the wakening of your next sleepe
Your sorrowes will have a slake.
Of course, when it’s not Easter or any other holiday, my two-sleeps routine is out of the question and since I generally need to hit the shower at about 7am in order to start my working day and rouse my sleeping teenagers from their slumber, I’m not especially cheerful feeling wide awake at four in the morning. My sorrowes remain unslaked. However, if it’s a day I’m working from home, I have been known to work for a few hours after my “first sleep”, drag myself into the shower at 6am and carry on with my day until around 2pm when I succumb to a better late than never “second sleep”, curled up on the sofa. Not as sweet as an original but still to be recommended for its restorative qualities.
Perhaps I was born in the wrong era – although electricity, central heating, showers do have their charms, admittedly. Oh well, back to the grindstone tomorrow but only two weeks until the next public holiday and another three-day weekend in the UK. I’m already plumping up my pillows in readiness.