second sleep

There’s one major hitch with my she-farmer gig: sleep. More accurately, lack thereof. Women about my age often empathize with my challenge of getting a good night’s sleep. I’m too hot. Too cold. I toss and I turn. Midnight to 4:00 a.m. is no-man’s land. If I get stranded there, I count on 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. to redeem the night.

Well, that’s doggone inconvenient as a she-farmer. I’ve often just settled into my “second sleep” when the Hubs nudges me awake with gentle peck. I stumble out of bed with only one thought: I need more sleep. The mere hope of resuming sleep after I finish chores propels me forward.

The concept of second sleep was introduced some years ago on an urgent trek to locate an Amish midwife. Two young Amish couples, Fannie and Ammon and Anna and Sam, worked on our farm. Fannie had delivered her first baby with great difficulty in the spring. Now Anna’s time had come. We woke to a midnight call from their neighbor, Mrs. Jordan. It was our responsibility to go for help.

The Hubs asked me to ride along so the women would feel more comfortable. It was the darkest part of fall, before snow brightens the ground with reflective moonlight. We were immersed in the inky black of night. There were no street lights or house lights for miles of back roads. We drove down a long dirt road to reach Anna’s parent’s home.

The Hubs parked the car in the yard. He got out and approached the back door carefully, over uneven footing. I wondered if there were any vicious dogs on the property, relieved for my own safety and concerned for his. The Hubs began pounding on the back door, loudly. Again and again and again. Finally he heard a noise within.

He continued beating on the door. Suddenly, a curtain flew open. A bearded man glared out at him, intimidating and seemingly hostile. Anna’s father. It crossed the Hubs’ mind he might be armed? He clearly did not appreciate this intrusion in the dead of night. The Hubs hastened to explain, “Anna’s in labor. She needs help!” The curtain closed without a word in response.

The Hubs returned to the car. We sat in silence, not sure what to do next. Finally the door opened and a woman emerged. Anna’s mother got in the back seat. “I’m sorry,” she said, apologizing for the delay. “I was in my second sleep.”

Anna’s mother directed us down another dirt road. She went to the door while we waited in the car. Eventually another woman joined us, the midwife. She, too, apologized for a sluggish response. “I was in my second sleep.”

The Hubs and I exchanged puzzled looks. Is this an Amish thing, second sleep? For a long time we assumed so, often joking about it when we were groggy, “I must have been in my second sleep.” However, recently I discovered it is a real thing, if also an archaic concept. There is plenty of evidence that our ancestors were accustomed to first and second sleeps punctuated by a period of active wakefulness. Segmented sleep is well documented in pre-industrial era. Given sleep issues of our post-modern society, some speculate it may be time to return to this mode.

For decades, I’ve marveled at the Hubs’ ability to sleep. He falls asleep almost immediately. He sleeps like the dead. He’s almost impossible to wake until the “ding” of the alarm. Then he launches out of bed like Secretariat at the starting gate. “And he’s off!” barreling into his day with general good humor, I might add. That is much more than I can muster at the outset of an abrupt awakening.

I must admit I have longstanding sleep envy. I wish I could sleep like that. Furthermore, I seriously resent my sleep disrupted. As a preschooler, my parents paid me off with nickels for restraining after-nap grumpiness. A nickel was worth a fist full of penny candy at the general store, presumably sufficient motivation. My dad nicknamed me “Bear” with more success. There’s nothing more grumpy than a bear emerging from several months of hibernation!

Now I realize my mindset about sleep has been misguided, especially as an adult. Failing to achieve 7 hours uninterrupted sleep is not deprivation so much as an invitation to a second sleep. Well, then. I’m on it. Good luck to you if you get in the way of my nap!

~ Sondra

#SheFarms Series

she farms | refining fire | milk bath morning | silos away!
second sleep | big cows | dill pickle proud | spirit of bartblue ribbon day

9 thoughts on “second sleep”

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