[Vwoolf] The Big Sleep

mhussey at verizon.net mhussey at verizon.net
Thu May 14 10:19:44 EDT 2020

Thank you Jeremy: this is fascinating. I remember a dream perhaps once every few years, so perhaps that will change once I stop fighting the natural rhythm!


From: Vwoolf <vwoolf-bounces+mhussey=verizon.net at lists.osu.edu> On Behalf Of Jeremy Hawthorn via Vwoolf
Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2020 10:04 AM
To: vwoolf at lists.osu.edu
Subject: Re: [Vwoolf] The Big Sleep


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  <mailto:vwoolf-bounces+mhussey=verizon.net at lists.osu.edu> <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 <mailto: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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Jeremy Hawthorn
Emeritus Professor
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
7491 Trondheim
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