The proverbial eight hours. Ask anyone and they say automatically ‘eight hours’.
As a matter of fact you sleep about ten and a half hours, like the majority of people. I’ve timed you on a number of occasions. I myself sleep eleven.
Yet thirty years ago people did indeed sleep eight hours, and a century before that they slept six or seven. In Vasari’s Lives one reads of Michelangelo sleeping for only four or five hours, painting all day at the age of eighty and then working through the night over his anatomy table with a candle strapped to his forehead. Now he’s regarded as a prodigy, but it was unremarkable then.
How do you think the ancients, from Plato to Shakespeare, Aristotle to Aquinas, were able to cram so much work into their lives? Simply because they had an extra six or seven hours every day.
The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard by J. G. Ballard