How We Used to Sleep


Welcome to ‘How we used to sleep’ – a collaborative project between the University of Manchester and The National Trust’s Little Moreton Hall – funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project will run throughout 2017 and will offer a unique insight into sleep’s fascinating and complex history.

The project stems from Dr Sasha Handley’s research on sleep in the early modern period, an era that has been dubbed a ‘golden age’ of sleep quality. Sasha’s recently published book, Sleep in Early Modern England (Yale University Press, 2016), explores how perceptions and practices of sleep were transformed in this period and how sleep’s cultural value, in times past and present, is intimately tied to sleep quality.[1]

Little Moreton Hall

Through a variety of activities at Little Moreton Hall, from the creation of an early modern sleep garden, to the recreation of an early modern bedchamber, ‘How we used to sleep’ will reveal how early modern people regulated their sleep by keeping strict bedtimes, performing nightly rituals such as bedtime prayer; how they created safe and secure locations for sleep; how they dealt with sleep loss, and why they believed that a good night’s sleep held the key to long-term physical, emotional and spiritual health. To complement the activities taking place at Little Moreton Hall, we will also be regularly updating our blog with a variety of posts that will explore early modern sleep in practice. Find out about the medical implications of poor sleep, the connections between sleep and supernatural power, the rise of sociability and its impact on bedtimes, and much, much more!

Aside from recreating the cultural and material world of early modern sleeping practices in the iconic Tudor surroundings of Little Moreton Hall, the project will also reflect on what we in the 21st century can learn from historical approaches to sleep’s management and sleep’s relationship to health and well-being. The project aims to raise awareness of how changing perceptions of sleep’s importance, can have a powerful effect on its daily practice. This focus should be particularly valuable today since we are seemingly in the grip of a sleep deprivation ‘crisis’. By exploring sleep’s rich history at Little Moreton Hall, ‘How we used to sleep’ aims to recalibrate the balance between sleep’s biological drivers, which lie at the heart of modern medical and scientific analyses, and its cultural and environmental dimensions. As we shall see over the coming year, the ways in which people think about sleep, and how they manage it, has a critical effect on sleep quality, an idea that is as true today as it was for the men, women, and children of the early modern period.

[1] Sasha Handley, Sleep in Early Modern England (Yale: Yale University Press, 2016).

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