Fagged out: overwork and sleeplessness in Victorian professional life.
The paper sets current concerns with insomnia in our 24/7 society in the context of nineteenth-century anxieties about the pressures of overwork and sleeplessness in professional culture. Following a case study of a sleepless prime minister, William Gladstone, it explores the early history of sleep research, including the first recordings of a brain pulse during sleep by Angelo Mosso. In parallel with current problems with addiction to sleeping pills, it explores accounts of addiction to choral, a sleeping remedy, and considers the forms of diet and regimes recommended for combatting insomnia. These are surprisingly similar to current advice, including a form of mindfulness breathing. Medical findings also anticipated recent research in arguing that sleeplessness could cause heart problems and what was termed 'premature mental decay'. Concerns about overwork and lack of sleep were also extended to school children, with campaigns to reduce homework and examinations, in order to improve mental and bodily health. Nineteenth-century medicine offered a broad-based model for understanding the physiological, psychological and social causes of sleep problems from which we can still learn.