[Vwoolf] The Big Sleep

Jeremy Hawthorn jeremy.hawthorn at ntnu.no
Thu May 14 10:04:26 EDT 2020

I had an indistinct memory that Woolf had problems with insomnia - which 
is what one would expect, given her mental health problems. A quick zip 
through various indices threw up a comment in a letter to Vanessa, June 
1921 (page 475 in the second volume of the 2-volume Letters of Virginia 
Woolf ed. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, 1976). "I'm practically 
all right, and slept without a sleeping draught last night." I'm pretty 
sure that there are other mentions of insomnia elsewhere, but couldn't 
locate them offhand.

As for sleep patterns more generally. All my life from when I had a 
paper round at the age of 11 until my retirement in 2012 at the age of 
70, I was what the Norwegians call an A-person, i.e. an early riser. 
A-people ("larks" I think in English) get up early, are at their best 
after breakfast, and the rest of the day is a slow descent into inertia 
and mindlessness. B-people ("owls" in English) are, if forced to get up 
before about 11, shambling brain-dead monsters until about midday, at 
which time things start to pick up and traces of humanity emerge. By 
teatime they are working quite well, and in the middle of the night they 
are at their peak and firing on all cylinders. Being an A-person has the 
advantage that you usually have a few hours undisturbed time when you 
are at your peak and your colleagues are waiting for the coffee machine 
to work, but the disadvantage is that at social events in the evening 
you desire nothing more that your bed from about 9.30 pm. Once I 
retired, I decided just to sleep as long as I liked, and to hell with 
the alarm clock. I then found myself adopting exactly the 
two-sleep-cycle that Mark describes. Bed at 10, up at 3 for a hot drink 
and a read of the news in the paper or online, then back to bed at 4 and 
sleep to an hour that I am not prepared to disclose. I get a lot less 
done, but for the first time in my life I remember my dreams (I'm told 
that this is because being woken by an alarm clock cuts out the most 
dream-filled part of one's sleep).

What I have learned is that if you cannot sleep there is no point in 
lying in bed thinking about not being able to sleep. Better to get up, 
relax, then go back to bed when you start to feel sleepy.

There must be some documentation of Virginia's sleep patterns: can 
anyone help?


On 14.05.2020 15:10, Mark Hussey via Vwoolf wrote:
> Thank you SO much for this Gretchen. For the past couple of months I 
> have been falling asleep almost as soon as I turn out the light, then 
> waking about 3 hours later feeling that it is time to get up, around 
> 2.30/3am, and lying in the dark for hours before getting another 
> couple of hours around 5/6am. I have even resorted to sleeping pills 
> to break this cycle, but now perhaps I see I should just get up and 
> answer some emails, ha ha. Better living through the Woolf listserv. 
> Stay safe out there everyone…
> *From:*Vwoolf <vwoolf-bounces+mhussey=verizon.net at lists.osu.edu> *On 
> Behalf Of *Gretchen Gerzina via Vwoolf
> *Sent:* Thursday, May 14, 2020 8:48 AM
> *To:* Vwoolf at lists.osu.edu
> *Subject:* [Vwoolf] The Big Sleep
> Dear Pavasha,
> There’s been a lot written about the two-sleep cycle, which dates back 
> to Roman times, and was common throughout Europe and America. A great 
> book on this is E. Roger Ekirch’s /At Day’s Close/, which gives the 
> whole history of this. Lots of people wake after 4 hours, then sleep 
> again for several more. In early New England, people used to get up 
> after their first sleep and greet others in the street, before going 
> back to bed for their second sleep. It wasn’t unusual for people to 
> ask in the morning, “how was your first sleep”?
> Gretchen Gerzina
> _______________________________________________
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> Vwoolf at lists.osu.edu
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Jeremy Hawthorn
Emeritus Professor
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
7491 Trondheim

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