How We used to Sleep

The Tudor bed at Little Moreton Hall

Do you get a good night’s sleep? Ever thought about how important sleep might be? Here 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 project has been developed with historian Dr Sasha Handley, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at Manchester University, whose book, ‘Sleep in Early Modern England’ is the first major historical study of sleeping practices. It explores the relationship between the sleep culture and quality of 500 years ago, during a period which has come to be known as a ‘golden age’ of sleep.  Dr Handley comments: “In our 24-hour society, the 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 artificial light and whose sleep was tied to their circadian or ‘internal’ clock.  This followed the natural rhythms of daylight and darkness, something which we ‘fight’ against today with our 24/7 lifestyle’

‘The Tudors took the value of sleep extremely seriously and knew its therapeutic value, both physically and mentally. Consequently they followed a whole raft of rituals and sleeping patterns which are totally alien to us today, but which to them ensured they would enjoy a good night’s sleep’.

As part of ‘How we used to Sleep’, a new Sleep Walk Trail has been created by Wild Rumpus, organisers of the Just-So Festival,  it takes visitors on a self-led walk through curious installations which replicate a journey through a night’s sleep, Tudor style. We also have a ‘Dream Library’  where you can come and share your dreams with us and find out how the tudor interpreted their dreams.

The Tudors slept sitting up, and ‘segmented’ their sleep,  waking for an hour during the night to chat or read. They used herbs and potions to aid them with sleep, and our new Sleep Walk Trail is only one of several events this year delving into this relatively unknown side of Tudor life.

Also visit our ‘Sleep Bed’ with examples of plants and herbs which the Tudors would have grown, and see if any of these could be used to help you sleep better today.

‘How we used to sleep’ is a partnership project between the National Trust and the University of Manchester,and is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.