Could the Tudors help improve sleep?

Do you get a good night’s sleep? Have you ever thought about how important sleep might be?

At Little Moreton Hall these are just some of the questions being asked as part of ‘How we used to sleep’, a study into the sleeping habits of the Tudors, how they compare to our own in the 21st century, and the effects of sleep on mental health and wellbeing.

The study has been developed by historian Dr Sasha Handley, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at Manchester University, whose book, Sleep in Early Modern England (http://www.historiesofsleep.com (Yale University press 2016) is the first major historical study of sleeping practices. It explores the relationship between early modern society and culture, sleeping practices and sleep quality in a period that some have dubbed a ‘golden age’ of sleep.

Dr Handley comments: ‘In our 24-hour society, the cultural value of sleep has fallen dramatically – and it could be said we now live in a chronically sleep-deprived society. We’re therefore going back in time to find out what we can learn from the Tudors, who had no electrical  light, no mobile phones, televisions or i-pads, and whose sleep may well have been more closely attuned to their circadian rhythms or ‘internal’ body clocks’.

The replica Tudor bed at Little Moreton Hall ⓒ National Trust Images

The replica Tudor bed at Little Moreton Hall ⓒ National Trust Images

‘Sleeping practices mapped more closely onto the natural seasonal rhythms of daylight and darkness –  something which we ‘fight’ against today with our 24/7 lifestyle’.

‘Early modern people also took their sleep quality seriously, since they understood healthy sleep to hold the key to long-term physical, mental and spiritual health. Consequently they practiced an array of bedtime rituals, ranging from prayer, to reading and embroidery, which they believed induced a good night’s sleep’.

Gathering herbs from the newly created ‘Sleep Garden’ at Little Moreton Hall c National Trust Images

Gathering herbs from the newly created ‘Sleep Garden’ at Little Moreton Hall ⓒ National Trust Images

As part of ‘How we used to sleep’, a new sleep trail has opened at Little Moreton Hall. This takes visitors on a self-led walk through a series of curious ‘installations’ which replicate a journey through a night’s sleep, Tudor style.

Anna Fielding from Little Moreton Hall says: ‘The Tudors slept slightly raised up (not flat as we do), and ‘segmented’ their sleep, waking for around an hour during the night to chat or read. They used herbs and potions to aid them with sleep, so we’ve created a Sleep Garden’ with examples of plants and herbs which the Tudors would have grown. We’re seeing if any of these could be used to help us to sleep better today.’

‘How we used to sleep’ is a partnership between the National Trust and The University of Manchester. Little Moreton Hall is open Weds – Sat. For details visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/littlemoretonhall

 

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