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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Preparing for Sleep

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Preparing for Sleep



Medical writers understood sleep to be crucial to the maintenance of physical well-being, and offered specific instructions for a range of bedtime matters, such as identifying the best place to sleep, choosing a bed least likely to attract vermin, and selecting the most appropriate night clothes. Preparing for sleep was also a spiritual matter. Because of the widely held fear that one might die while asleep, saying one’s prayers was an important nightly ritual.



Richard Day. A booke of Christian prayers. London, 1578

Several texts give insight into how people prepared for sleep in Renaissance England. Church of England clergyman Richard Day’s text,  A booke of Christian prayers, offers both a bedtime prayer as well as images of sleepers sharing a bed. Primarily for reasons of economy and warmth, bed-sharing was a common practice in early modern households and in university settings.

 

Thomas Tryon’s A treatise of cleanness in meats and drinks, of the preparation of food, the excellency of good airs, and the benefits of clean sweet beds offers a wealth of sleep-related advice, which he summarizes as follows: “Therefore moderate Clothing, hard Beds, Houses that stand so as that the pleasant Briezes of Wind may air and refresh them, and also Houses that are full of Windows, are to be preferr’d.” He also notes that featherbeds breed vermin (a common problem in early modern beds) and are to be avoided.

 

Finally, Thomas Cogan's The haven of health covers topics such as the “most fit” place in which to sleep, the best way to make the bed, and the appropriate posture for sleeping. Cogan also notes that “he that sleepeth with his mouth close[d] hath commonly an ill breath and foule teeth.”

 

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