Why pre-sleep is good for Outlander author Diana Gabaldon - and for me - Alison Campsie

It’s one of the better habits I picked up over lockdown – and I call it the pre-sleep.

It began as a way of beating boredom of long nights for one during the pandemic – go to bed early and find peace in sleep as the fear of the pandemic pervaded every aspect of our lives. I also thought it might be good for my skin.

So, not long after dinner, it was off upstairs, sometimes as early as 8:30pm. The words on the page of whatever I was reading started to dissolve ever more quickly and I was off. Good sleep came surprisingly easy.

Then I woke up again, probably around midnight, feeling fresher, lighter and with better clarity. In that waking hour or so, little things would get done.

My rested eyes could read better, I felt like writing a line or two and little tasks I couldn’t be bothered tending to during the day would be completed. It’s a lovely time of night, which the waking world has yet to touch.

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I was intrigued to learn that Outlander author Diana Gabaldon has her own pre-sleep, going to bed in the evening and getting up at midnight before settling down to work, usually writing until 4:30am or so. She likes the lack of ‘psychic noise’ and those small hours have served her well, with more than 50 million copies of her books now sold.

It turns out that having a pre-sleep has been entirely normal through time, with people’s body clock wired completely differently in the pre-industrial age, when life was lived by candlelight and alarm clocks were still a far off invention.

Having two sleeps in one night was common until the early 19th Century with the period in-between slumbers known as 'the watch'. PIC: publicdomainpictures.net.

Historian Roger Ekirch, author of A Day’s Close, A History of Night-time, became interested in the phenomena after researching the murder of woman in the north of England in the late 17th century, with court papers detailing how the victim met her death after rising from her "first sleep”.

He found that “bisaphic sleep” was usual until the early 19th century all around the world, with the time between slumbers known as ‘the watch’, which became a valuable window in which to get things done, from praying, to socialising, to feeding animals.

And then, best yet, the night deepens a little more, and the second sleep comes.

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