Sleep like 100 years ago despite challenges

Posted July 18, 2013 at 10:19 am

by Laurie Saloman

Take a page from the olden days and get enough rest despite the challenges of today’s modern life.

Have you ever wondered if a good night’s sleep was more easily achieved a century ago than today? While our basic human need for rest remains the same, the landscape of modern life looks very different than it did 100 or more years ago. And while some developments have made life easier, certain inventions have made it harder to get much-needed rest:

Electronics. There certainly were no cell phones, TVs or iPads at the turn of the last century. Home lighting, if there was any, was far more rudimentary than it is today. Many families relied on candlelight. Inconvenient, perhaps, but the lack of electricity and electronic devices meant people generally went to bed once it was dark outside. Today, there are a myriad of distractions that may keep you from your bed. Compounding the problem is that studies show exposure to light stimulates our brains and can keep you awake long after you’ve finally shut down electronics. Experts recommend keeping computers, TVs, cell phones, and other light-emitting devices out of the bedroom, or at least powering them down so they don’t give off ambient light.

Automated Work. In the last century, physical labor was common. Most people didn’t have cars, so they walked more. Many people had to work hard to grow and prepare their own food. Life was not spent sitting behind the wheel or behind a desk, the way it is now for so many of us. A hundred years ago nobody went to the gym after work, because they didn’t have to—they got plenty of physical exercise just going about their day. This activity no doubt helped them fall asleep easily at bedtime and sleep more soundly. In contrast, people who don’t hit the gym until 8 p.m. may be wired well past midnight, as experts say it takes hours after exercise for body temperature to drop enough to induce sleep.

Blackout shades and sleep masks. Many people rely on these so daylight streaming in through the curtains doesn’t disturb them. But 100 years ago, people often got up when the sun rose. Just as they didn’t rely on artificial light to keep them up at night, they didn’t depend on artificial dark to keep them asleep in the morning. Research at the University of Toronto shows that early birds are happier and healthier than night owls, so open your shades and let nature guide your sleep habits.

Microwaves. Studies indicate that eating too close to bedtime can cause abdominal discomfort and interfere with sleep. A century ago, it was much more of an effort to prepare or reheat a meal. Today, it’s all too easy to press a few buttons and have a meal at any hour. Try to eat dinner at a reasonably early hour every night, and you’ll go to bed feeling satisfied, not uncomfortably full.