Today, it’s normal for us to sleep for seven to nine hours (or if you’re privileged to get that) from evening to morning on a warm bed with comfortable mattress, sheets, pillows, and blankets, inside a secure home that’s free from pests, birds, and other external elements. That isn’t the case for peasants in the middle ages, as sleeping then was strongly reliant on the size of the people’s purse. Not to mention that sleeping arrangements are also unlike the long continuous sleeping period we have in modern times. In this article, let’s delve deeper into how medieval peasants slumber and see how it differs in the way we do today.
Medieval Peasants’ Bed
Being poor in the medieval times entailed sleeping on a simple platform, usually on the floor or stone slabs. Luckier had mattresses made of wool, rags, straw, feathers, and hair, that they could roll up and keep away during the day.
The poorest of them never had the chance to choose a comfortable mattress and endured sleeping on “bed” only with a thin sheet of peat moss or hay. Plus, they had nothing more than their cloak for warmth.
Families from the lowest classes share beds together, cramming in a one-room cottage. It’s no surprise as privacy was never observed during the medieval times. What’s worse is that there unwanted guests like lice, fleas, bugs and rodents, also frequented their area, which is why peasants needed to literally “hit the hay” to force out any visitor still hiding in the mattress.
When the night hit and as the cold arrived, peasants relied on a fireplace to keep the room warm. Yet, it was far from the cozy, efficient hearths we enjoy today. Theirs was an actual open fire nestled in the middle of the room and needed to be looked after overnight. Sometimes, there’s a small hole on the ceiling to aid in the ventilation.
Things became challenging during the winter, as all windows, doors, and shutters had to be closed. As such, there was nowhere for the exhaust to escape, leaving the room pretty smoky.
Rains were another story, as it meant no one would be able to sleep, as rainwater dripped from the rafters of the thatched roof. If winds were hard, peasants would hear them wheeze through the walls and windows through the night. Adding to the sleeping agony are the plunging debris, caused by the rodents, bugs, and even small birds that considered the roof as their home.
As the morning came, what had been the sleeping area proved not to be solely for slumbering. With such a small space housing large families, it meant using their “bed” for other activities, such as for sitting, or as their table throughout the day.
Of course, the wealthy people had the chance to sleep comfortably, having the earliest forms of the beds and mattress we sleep on today. However, their beds were beyond a mere sleeping platform, as it served as an opportunity for them to display their status. Beds were adorned with gold, jewels, and curtains – a luxury that was needless to say not experienced by the peasants in the medieval times.
How They Sleep
A good night’s sleep today is often associated with a continuous session of slumber, lasting for about eight hours. During the Middle Ages, medieval peasants had a different sleeping pattern, involving two periods of sleep during the night.
It was pretty normal for them to go to bed early, get up for a few hours, go back to sleep again and wait for the natural alarm clocks. During the “midnight gap,” they would do house checks, chores, pray, reflect, or engage in intimate encounters. On the other hand, some even visited their neighbors during the said time.
Of course, it didn’t apply to all as those who needed to stay up later may no longer awaken and instead sleep until the morning. Meanwhile, children were also an exception as they were advised to sleep for nine to ten consecutive hours.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, and are unable to sleep without browsing your phone, sipping tea, or watching at least an episode of your favorite, your body might have followed the sleeping rhythm pattern of our ancestors and love to do the midnight gap.
Indeed, the way we sleep today is far favorable to the way medieval peasants slumber. So, always be thankful if you have a warm, soft bed to sleep in and if you’re lucky enough to get seven hours of sleep or more. Who knows what changes may occur to our beds, in the ways we sleep, and for how long we need to in the future?