Between First and Second Sleep

Del has a thought-provoking post over at Sex, Gods and Rock Stars about whether it is easier to do certain magical and spiritual work late at night.

“I was reading a novel the other night that takes place in a world similar to our own but where magic is a known quantity….It mentions that magic is easier during “The Witching Hour” because so many people are asleep that it creates less psychic friction for their willworking and gives them more potency and power. It goes on to say that although originally, the hour was considered to be between midnight and 1a, but ever since our society has been pushing our lives later and later, it was now more like 3:30a.”

I remember when I first noticed this effect. I was about 13 years old, just starting to build a serious Depressive Artist temperament, and my medium of choice at the time was painting. I would stay up late in my room to paint because the air felt clearer then, in a psychic sense, as all the other humans nearby were unconscious. (Of course, late for me at that time was probably 11pm, but in the area I lived in, that was late enough for most people to be asleep.)

For many years that followed, I preferred to stay up late and sleep late. I would still prefer that, in many ways, but my body has had other ideas since about the time I turned 30. These days, I often wake up before sunrise, and likewise I find myself getting sleepy at an embarrassingly early hour of the night. For awhile I tried to fight this change, but it only left me feeling tired and cranky.

However, I found a way to take advantage of the late-night psychic quiet anyway, thanks to my discovery of the older concept of first and second sleep. Apparently, for at least several centuries, and still today in some parts of the world, it was not considered the norm to have one long, uninterrupted chunk of sleep the way we expect to in modern Western culture. (The fact that so many people have difficulty maintaining this sort of sleep schedule should be a clue that it’s not necessarily our natural inclination, but we like to force nature to suit our whims.) Instead, people would speak of “first sleep” and “second sleep”, using the hours in between for activities such as prayer, sex, contemplation, study, etc.

I had already noticed that I tended to wake up for several hours in the middle of the night, but always viewed it as a form of insomnia, something to overcome. Once I decided to embrace this natural cycle, not only did my overall sleeping improve, but I was able to actually utilize the time awake rather than struggling against it. While I often just read quietly in bed, I also sometimes get up and go into the adyton to do ritual with my gods and spirits. It is the only time I can be guaranteed that my neighbors will not be making any noise, everyone in the surrounding area is quiet and usually asleep, and I have a lot more focus. Not to mention that getting into an altered state of consciousness in between bouts of sleep and dream is almost a seamless process.

Just thought I would mention this, as I’m guessing I’m not the only one who could benefit from a different perspective on our sleep requirements and habits – nor the only one who might like to take advantage of the Witching Hour for magical purposes, but isn’t a natural night owl.

~ by Dver on December 28, 2012.

8 Responses to “Between First and Second Sleep”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this! I have battled with sleep for 20 years, since I was a teen, and have just discovered this very thing in the past six months, and it has changed my life. I’m much more functional and not tired all day long anymore. And those 2-3am hours are really conducive to reading, journaling, meditation or ritual.

    Sharing this post!

  2. “Just thought I would mention this…” Thank you for doing so, I am a classic case of this 2-cycle sleeper & I too have spent countless nights over many years attempting to “overcome” it, despite the fact that my intuition tells me that it has a valuable function. From time to time I have made use of the quiet for workings, but more often it has been a struggle to sleep. The Times article has some helpful information (as I am sure does the author’s book) — the references are much appreciated.

    Carpe noctem!

    • I’m waiting for the book to be returned to the university library so I can take it out and read it. I only needed the basic idea to spark a change in my sleep habits (or rather, my attitude towards them) but I’d still like to read the whole thing.

  3. The idea of first and second sleep has really improved my anxiety around insomnia (which otherwise exacerbates insomnia).

    Many’s the time I’ve found myself looking up a BBC article about it on my phone in a pub while speaking excitedly with other poor sleepers.

    There’s a stack of books by my bed that I now reach for without a moment’s guilt in that between-time.

  4. Very well said! I’m in the same boat – I could stay up clear until dawn when I was younger… But now that I’m older, well… Um.. Not so much. But I have been woken up in the wee-hours for spirit work, and I give a nod to you on that one!

  5. I’ve been wanting to explore this 2 sleep cycle as well – particularly as its been popping up this year due to my work schedule (I do late nights with four ten hour days). I usually do sleep through the night, but I’ve taken to getting up and puttering now when I find myself awake. The only downside is that I can’t do much, as my current home is only three rooms (bedroom, kitchen, den) and the bedroom is my domain – where all my stuff is, my altar, my books and crafts are – but also where my husband sleeps! Poor fella. When he’s out for the night, I have time to Work. We’re looking for a place with more rooms soon so we can each have space for times like that.

  6. Thanks for this. It explains a lot. Unlike Wendy (hope you get a place soon) I have another room where my magickal work is done so I will be investigating this 2 sleep concept. Cheers.

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