The age of the bed changed the way we sleep

When did beds become a thing, and what was sleep like before the modern era? Here’s a JSTOR article with some answers: How the age of the bed changed the way we sleep.

A night without electric lights—not to mention glowing screens—is almost unimaginable for modern residents of wealthy nations. Looking at writings from the British Isles in the early modern era, A. Roger Ekirch reconstructs what it was like, and how the darkness affected people’s sleep patterns. (…)

The environment for sleep itself changed dramatically between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ekirch writes, going from straw pallets on the floor to wooden frames with pillows, sheets, blankets, and mattresses filled with rags and wool. Sixteenth-century clergyman William Harrison recalled people in his childhood sleeping with “a good round log under their heads, instead of a bolster” and wrote that pillows “were thought meet only for women in childebed.”

Still, when beds were introduced people took to them eagerly. Quoting historian Carole Shammas, Ekrich writes that we might think of the early modern era as “The Age of the Bed.” Beds were the first and most valuable piece of furniture families acquired, accounting for a quarter of the value of a modest household. They were also often infested with bugs and shared by several people. [continue]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *