Eat right, sleep tight

For our fore­bears, the se­cret to a good night’s sleep lay in the con­tents of your gut

BBC History Magazine - - How Our Ancestors Slept -

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

the body.

This c1700 pos­set pot served up a hot, milky drink that was thought to ease di­ges­tion dur­ing sleep

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