Sleeping well in the early modern world: an environmental approach to the history of sleep care


  • Prof Sasha Handley

    University of Manchester

Project summary

How and why did past communities try to optimise their sleep? To answer this question my project will investigate the development of a culture of 'sleep care' c.1500–1750 in Britain, Ireland and England's American colonies and its manifestation in a range of everyday practices. 

I will show how historic environments played a powerful role in 'sleep care' practices by uncovering how and why people engaged with their physical surroundings to cleanse and scent their bedding textiles, to prepare sleep tonics and to control the climatic conditions of their sleeping environments. My project will shift the tone of conversations around sleep from crisis to care and assess how sleep care practices changed in a period marked by large-scale agricultural change, urbanisation, and increased mobility. 

This research offers critical context for health researchers who claim that a growing disconnection between nature and culture is one important cause of our current sleep 'crisis'.