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HOME > Science Fiction > The psychology of sleep > CHAPTER II HOW MUCH SLEEP
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 Six hours in sleep, in law’s grave study six, Four spend in prayer, the rest on Nature fix.
(Translation.)   Sir Edward Coke.
Man is the highest expression yet discovered of the “living organism,” and sleep has always taken more of his time than any other function. Marie de Manacéïne of St. Petersburg, in her great book called “Sleep,” says: “The weaker the consciousness is, the more easily it is and in need of sleep; an energetic consciousness, on the contrary, is with periods of sleep that are shorter, less deep, and less frequent.” Although the consciousness of the race has developed and strengthened enormously, and is strengthening itself, the old-fashioned idea that one-third of our time should be spent in sleep holds the average mind as strongly as ever. We insist upon it for the young, impress it upon everybody, and look distrustfully upon him who is so daring and as to say that he requires less than eight hours of sleep. When an idea is intrenched in the mind it is next to impossible to drive it out by reason or even by repetition.
It is the popular belief that Alfred the Great—who is also Alfred the Wise and Alfred the Good (being dead so long)—divided time into three equal parts, and taught that one part should be given to sleep. If he had said this, it would not follow that it is the last and wisest word on the best way to divide our time, but he did not say it. What he said was that one-third of each day should be given to sleep, diet and exercise: that is, that a man should devote eight hours to sleeping, eating and whatever form of exercise or recreation he desired.
There is nothing to show that Alfred spent even six hours in sleep, although there is plenty of proof that he recognized the difference between rest and sleep, for he gave the second division of the day—eight hours—to study and to reflection, while the remaining eight hours were to be for business. In those days kings worked hard. Sir Henry Sumner Maine says that the list of places where King John held court shows that even he was as active as any commercial traveler nowadays. (“Early Law and Custom,” p. 183.)
But the that Alfred recommended eight hours for sleep will not down, and no amount of argument or proof will7 change the opinion of the average man on this point. “Our slept eight hours,” they say; “so should we.” We forget that probably the rushlight and the candle had much to do with the long hours of sleep in olden times. As artificial light has improved, sleeping-time has been shortened.
There is an old English quatrain which runs:
“Nature requires five,
Custom gives seven,
Laziness takes nine
And wickedness eleven.”
But sleep is a natural need, and, like any other natural need, varies in degree in different persons. Dogs, cats and other animals generally sleep more than we do, and their young ones sleep still more. Generally speaking, the infant, whose mental powers have barely , who is, so far as we can tell, merely a human animal, needs more sleep than it will ever need again in its existence. In this great need of sleep the human animal resembles other animals.
It frequently happens that, as a man waxes older, he requires less and less sleep than in his growing and most active years. But old people who have outlived their mental life come to a time when they sleep and perform merely the physical functions like the infant; so also with those whose energy so far exceeds their physical strength that the effort of living exhausts them. This condition may be in part due to overstrain of the powers of youth and middle age, but it also follows the idea that years diminish strength and energy. It is easy to fall into this notion, for it accords so well with the general idea that rest must come only after the period of activity, whether that period be a day or a lifetime.
All of us have had periods when we have needed fewer than our average hours of sleep. People who sleep out of doors or in ventilated rooms, under warm but light clothing, find that they need less sleep than when they occupy poorly ventilated rooms and wrap themselves in heavy, unhygienic clothing. Fresh discoveries are being made almost daily by those who give intelligent consideration to these things.
Even babies differ in their need of sleep. I know one healthy, happy, beautiful baby who has never slept the average sixteen hours that babies are supposed to need. This child is now between three and four years of age, and has never gone to sleep before nine or half-past nine at night. Her parents had the common idea of long hours of sleep for infants, and the child had a hard struggle for a while to convince them that she had no such need: such struggles are often called “naughtiness.” She was regularly put to bed at seven o’clock, and all the usual devices for a baby to sleep were practiced. Sometimes she was left alone, sometimes she had gentle lullabies sung to her, but, whether alone or in company, this particular baby played and enjoyed herself until between nine and nine-thirty, when she quietly dropped to sleep. She awoke as early as the average baby wakes, happy and refreshed, and her parents finally learned that there is no sleeping rule that has no exceptions, whether to infants or adults.
is a sign that we ought to sleep, just as hunger is a sign that we ought to eat. Natural wakefulness means that we ought not to sleep. The child tries to obey the promptings of nature, but we think these promptings are wrong, if not wicked, and force him into all sorts of bad habits. Says Michelet, “No could have stood its ground if the man had not silenced the objections of the child.” We are slowly learning that there is no need or function of the body or of the mind that is exactly the same in all individuals, or that is always the same even in the same individual.
But, in spite of this dawning knowledge, we still view with alarm any disregard of the rule, either in ourselves or another; so true it is, as Thomas Paine says, that “It is a of the human mind to become what it .” We have looked upon ourselves as having certain, unvarying, needs until we have almost become subject to them.

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