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Communal Sleeping

Why Communal Sleeping Popular in Medieval Times?

Experts say the end of sibling bed-sharing usually happens naturally, without prompting from parents, before the children hit puberty. But they say parents shouldn’t hesitate to change the arrangement if they think one child’s getting too old for it. Did you know why communal sleeping was so popular during medieval times? 

People in the Medieval era shared their beds with their entire family and even the occasional overnight visitor; only the very wealthy could afford more than one bed, and the poor slept on piles of cloth or hay on the floor.

Communal Sleeping During the Medieval Times

For the longest time, sleep has been a communal activity. Bedmates were a necessity in the days before central heating and alarm systems. Entire families, including guests, would sleep on a single mattress, servants frequently slept alongside their mistresses, and strangers frequently shared a bed while traveling.

While people have always required a place to sleep, beds are a relatively new invention. For an astonishingly long time, beds remained glorified piles of leaves. The wheel was invented, animals were domesticated, and societies were established. Still, for most people, a bed was just a scrap of cloth that provided the most fundamental level of separation between them and the cold, hard ground. In medieval Europe’s grand houses, most of the household gathered in the great hall to spend the night on blankets or cloaks. If they were lucky, they would literally hit the hay, which they would stuff into a sack and use as a mattress.

Beds in affluent homes began to take on their modern form by the 15th century. They had wooden frames and other sleeping necessities such as pillows, sheets, blankets, and even a mattress. Sleeping alone in a grand 16th-century English bed, as historian Lucy Worsley points out in her book If Walls Could Talk, sleeping alone would have been a lonely experience.

The wealthy had developed a taste for beds and designed them to be large, elevated, canopied, and had curtains. The bed was frequently the most expensive item in the home, so only the wealthiest could afford more than one.

As a result, entire families were sometimes forced to share a single bed and the covers. People were not bothered by this, especially in poor households where the communal bed provided a rare opportunity for families to gather and bond.

The nuclear family was not the only one who slept together. Mistresses sometimes shared their beds with female servants to protect them from unwanted advances from male household members. Many servants slept at the foot of their masters’ beds, regardless of the bedtime activity in that particular space. (Source: Atlas Obscura

How Did Communal Sleeping End? 

The Victorian home was filled with rooms divided into servants’ and masters’ domains. This marked a gradual shift toward privacy occurring over the previous two centuries. Individual bedrooms were assigned to each family member, and the idea that communal sleeping was improper, if not downright immoral, gradually gained traction and spread to the lower classes.

These distinct spheres extended to the marital domain. Couples now had not only their own rooms but also their beds. This provided the Victorians with the appearance of propriety they desired. However, there was an even more important reason that his-and-her beds became popular: disease. 

There were many concerns about public health in the mid-nineteenth century. Diseases were thought to arise spontaneously where foul water and air existed, and a sleeping body was a prime offender. (Source: Atlas Obscura

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