The Projector

Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski

Sleep Habits & Literary Production

Sleep deprivation is a major problem these days, leading to a host of physical and emotional problems.  It has been the focus of many studies in recent decades, and, just this fall, Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the molecules responsible governing over circadian rhythm.


At this point in the semester, students, faculty, and staff all seem to be a bit run down and sleep deprived.  It’s been my habit in the classroom and on this blog to share selected infographics.  I am constantly curious about how Humanities scholars use, visually represent, and share data, and I am always looking for ways in which students can gain new experiences with technology, and specifically using large collections of data and making them accessible to the public.

Since sleep has been on my mind recently, I wanted to simply share two more graphs; each depicts sleep habits and literary / professional production.  Looking at these charts and the individual, sometimes “quirky” routines, of authors, inventors, and thinkers, but it is a fun way to get everyone thinking about their own sleep habits.

Albert Einstein seems to have slept a bit more than the average person, averaging (punctually) ten hours of sleep each night.  Not surprisingly perhaps, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald was a night owl; he typically didn’t get to bed until 3am and slept through most of his mornings.  On the other had, despite what the chart shows, Charles Dickens was a famous insomniac, and had some truly strange sleeping habits to deal with this sleeping disorder.  Many of his nights were spent taking walks along the streets of London.  And more interestingly, he maintained some strange sleep rituals throughout his life:  one story notes that he always had his bed facing north (and even took a compass with him wherever he went to make sure that this was the case).

The strangest (and maybe most famous) sleep routine comes from artist and Renaissance Man Leonard da Vinci.  “The Da Vinci Sleep Schedule” involved him sleeping for very short increments–between 20 minutes and two hours per session–throughout the day.  In all, the brief naps totaled only about 5 hours a day.  Fans of the series Seinfeld might recall an episode where Kramer tries to replicate this schedule.

Since a good portion of my recent work often relates to the eighteenth century, I’m especially interested in how natural the eight-hour sleep cycle actually is.  For many, it is not unreasonable to assume that electricity and artificial light has had a dramatic impact on the history of sleep.  And studies on sleep and insomnia often recommend turning off bright lights an hour or so before bedtime.

In the past decade, historians and Humanities scholars have, too, taken a closer look at sleep habits before the second Industrial Revolution.  Among these studies, in his 2001 essay “Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-industrial Slumber in the British Isles,” historian A. Roger Ekirch argues that sleep before the twentieth century was bi-phasic, often interrupted in the middle of the night for about an hour or two.  (This does in part taint the infographs below which assumes uninterrupted sleep patterns.)  See Segmented sleep (or divided sleep) here.

Which famous writer’s sleep habits most resemble your own nightly routine?


*Click on the images below for a larger view of each.

Originally appeared at Brain Pickings.



Originally appeared in New York Magazine.



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This entry was posted on November 14, 2017 by in Art, Digital Humanities, History, Infographic, Literature and tagged , , , , , , , .
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