Eat right, sleep tight
For our forebears, the secret to a good night’s sleep lay in the contents of your gut
We’ve been alive to the sleep-disrupting qualities of caffeine for almost as long as it’s been drunk. As far back as the 17th century, the self-styled French pharmacist Philippe Sylvestre Dufour declared that tea and coffee should be avoided before bedtime, noting that they were only useful for those “that would study by night”.
But our early modern ancestors believed that food and drink could cure sleep deprivation, as well as cause it. They prized lettuce soup for its soporific qualities, and often supped a hot, milky drink known as posset – a commonc bedtime beverage that t strengthened the stom mach by placing a dairy ‘lid’ on it.
Early modern medic cal advice drew close link ks between healthy sleep p and healthy digestion. In his 1534 book Castel of Helth, the lawyer and humanist scholar Sir Thomas Elyot declared d that: “Digestion is made better, or more perfite by slepe, the body fatter, the mynde more quiete and clere, the humours temperate.”
Adopting the right sleep posture was thought to speed digestion. People were advised to sleep “well bolstered up”, with their heads raised to create a downward slope towards the stomach, so preventing the regurgitation of food.
They were also encouraged to alternate their position during the night. Resting first on the right side allowed food to descend easily into the stomach’s pit. Turning onto the coooler left side after a few hours s released the stomach vapou urs that had accumulated on thhe right, and spread heat h more evenly through
This c1700 posset pot served up a hot, milky drink that was thought to ease digestion during sleep