A Good Night’s Rest A Good Night’s Rest
i
“Sleep,” Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 1867–70. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Experiences

A Good Night’s Rest

Sleeping Habits across History
Milena Rachid Chehab
Reading
time 12 minutes

Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep in bed linen and on a comfortable mattress is a recent invention. Across different eras and cultures, night-time habits have considerable variety.  

“Many Europeans don’t use a top sheet and instead sleep on a fitted sheet, underneath a comforter or duvet. (The duvet has its own cover, which can be taken off and washed just like sheets).” The mysterious bed habits of the continent of Europe were revealed to America by Time magazine only in 2017. To Europeans this all sounds as obvious as the fact that the human body is controlled by a biological clock. Yet if this was also so clear, three American scientists wouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize for its discovery in the not so distant past. Back in the 1980s, nothing was obvious. It is true that scientists have argued since the 18th century that mimosa leaves open in the morning and close at night (even when the plant is hidden from light), and in the mid-20th century a gene controlling the circadian rhythm in a fruit fly was identified. But only Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young examined this and two further genes (not only in fruit flies, but also in humans) more closely. They concluded that the proteins they produce connect with or block each other in a precise 24-hour rhythm—the same rhythm in which cortisol and melatonin dance in our bodies (controlled by the pineal gland regulated by the supply of light), managing the processes of waking up and falling asleep.­­

The Darkest Place Is Between the Street Lights

It seems that few things have changed society as much as mass access to light, also during the night. And

Information

You’ve reached your free article’s limit this month. You can get unlimited access to all our articles and audio content with our digital subscription. If you have an active subscription, please log in.

Subscribe

Also read:

The Nocturnal Conversations of Neurons The Nocturnal Conversations of Neurons
i
Illustration by Igor Kubik
Wellbeing, Science

The Nocturnal Conversations of Neurons

How Humans Sleep
Łukasz Kaniewski

Human sleep is made up of cycles, and the cycles of phases – deep and shallow in turn. Although the cycles are of similar length, each has a different structure. Welcome to the architecture of sleep.

Human sleep happens in cycles. These are more or less similar in length: around one and a half hours. There are normally five cycles, each of which is important. Each sleep cycle has several phases. While we are still awake, muscle tension remains high. The brain’s electrical activity is fast and low voltage; different signals coming from different parts of the brain, which gives the impression of chaos.

Continue reading