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A Good Night's Rest

Shakespeare for Kids

Getting a good night's rest was just as important in Shakespeare's day as it is now. People believed that enough sleep was part of staying healthy—but too much sleep could cause problems! 



Rembert Dodoens. Cruydenboeck. English. London, 1578

How much sleep someone needed was determined in part by what kind of temperament, or humor, that person had. The theory of the humors was based on an ancient belief that the body had four fluids, or humors in it, that influenced a person's health and character.


In a healthy person, the humors were in balance. However, a person might have a dominant humor that influenced his or her health as well as personality.


They were:

  • Blood.  A person with this humor was believed to have a cheerful and optimistic, or sanguine, personality.  Sanguine people were thought to need less sleep, only about 7 hours a night, than other types.
  • Yellow bile. A person with this humor had a choleric personality. He or she was thought to be easily angered. Some doctors advised choleric people to get about 7 hours of sleep a night.
  • Phlegm. People with this humor had calm, rational personalities. They were believed to have average sleep needs, about 9 hours a night.
  • Black bile. Black bile was thought to lead to a melancholic personality; sometimes they were sad, and sometimes they were in a bad mood. These people were thought to have trouble getting to sleep, and so remedies to help them fall sleep were very common. Ironically, melancholics were advised to sleep a lot—up to 9 hours! 



Thomas Walkington. The optick glasse of humors. Oxford, 1631?

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