skip to primary navigationskip to content

Timing Sleep in premodern Japan - Steger

Brigitte Steger (University of Cambridge) Timing sleep in premodern Japan

Brigitte Steger (University of Cambridge)

Timing sleep in premodern Japan


Our ancestors went to bed when night fell and “naturally” got up early, or so is the general assumption. Yet the sleeping schedules of yesteryear appear not to have been such a simple affair. In this paper I will investigate sleep times and sleep patterns throughout premodern Japanese history from the earliest written sources to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. According to time-use surveys, sleep is the one activity on which humans on average spend by far most time. Investigating sleep patterns allows us to address a number of questions pertaining to time-related values and practices:


Some of these questions are: Was nocturnal sleep-time regulated? If so, how was it regulated, by whom, and for whom? What time signals, incl. clocks, animal noises, plant cycles or social activities were used to manage sleep patterns? How were these regulations reflected in everyday life? Were there notions of an “appropriate sleeping time” and what considerations went into making this determination? Was there a quest for sleep reduction or perhaps for early rising? Who demanded it, who was asked to reduce sleep, and what arguments were given? Given that there was no electricity and gas – and oil was expensive – which were the activities – work or pleasure – that were worth doing in the hours of dark? How about napping? Can we detect polyphasic or perhaps even polychronic sleep habits (through the practice of inemuri) and what does this say on attitudes towards timing day and night more generally?