2007 March

Nightwatching, a Renewed View of Lost Homeopathic Vocabulary

by Melanie Grimes
From of the discontinuity between the Golden Age of homeopathy to today, transitions have been breached and data has been lost.
One of the gaps lies in vocabulary and language usage. As homeopaths, we are accustomed to translating from the archaic language of Victorian times. However, some words which had fallen into disuse may have not been properly reconstituted. During this lost transition, we may have overlooked the original meaning in the rubric, "Night watching."
Our contemporary interpretation of the rubric "Night watching", commonly refers to ailments from the sleeplessness of nursing others, as in the remedy Cocculus. However, other remedies mention the word "night watching" in ways that seem to conflict with that interpretation. While nursing others, anxiety about others, and night watching frequently appear in the same sentence, but they are not necessarily tied to each other.

According to Rubin Naiman, Clinical Assistant Professor Of Medicine; Program In Integrative Medicine, University Of Arizona and Clinical Coordinator, Sleep & Dream Psychology, night watching has had a different meaning in past times than that which we assign to it today.
Waking midway through our sleep cycle is a natural occurrence in those with healthy sleep patterns. In pre-industrial times, night waking was just that: waking at night. Night watching was considered a common occurrence during the time of the creation of our repertories. In these pre-industrial times, people were known to wake up, eat meals, even go outside, or fraternize with neighbors.

The remedy Carlsbad lists "Ailments after drinking white wine while night watching." Most people nursing a sick loved one would not be found drinking white wine. Zincum is listed as treatment for smallpox, with the modalities, "Great exhaustion and prostration especially after night watching and anxiety." A patient with prostration from smallpox was most likely not watching over others, but rather kept awake by his own symptomatology.
Many of the references to night watching do, in fact, list remedies associated with anxiety and sleeplessness from nursing of others or from mental strain, such as Cocculus, but many other remedies need to be re-evaluated to include simply the normal process of waking in the middle of a night's sleep. For some, night watching can aggravate their general state, as in Zinc, who is upset by the loss of just one hour of sleep. But for many, night waking is a normal part of their everyday rhythm.

A. Roger Ekirch, historian at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, has studied nocturnal life in Europe and America between 1500 and 1830. Recipient of Guggenheim Fellowship, his research sources have included newspapers, diaries, memoirs, letters, poems, plays and novels, artwork, coroners' reports, legal depositions, proverbs, folktales, as well as research in medicine, psychology and anthropology.
Through his research, he has discovered that most Western Europeans between 500 and 200 years ago slept in a two-phase sleep pattern. In the pre-industrial times, when light was not artificially reproduced, sleep was segmented into first sleep and a second period of sleep. In between was a "watching period", commonly a 1-2 hour segment in the middle of the night.
During this time, halfway through the night, it was common to wake for an hour or more of talking, smoking, or even visiting with neighbors. "Some stayed in bed to meditate, pray, or reflect on dreams from their "first sleep" of the night; and dreams often guided their lives."
Ekirch believes that continuous sleep may be caused by exposure to artificial light, and a "segmented sleep" may be more a natural condition. Studies conducted by Thomas Wehr at the National Institute of Mental Health came to a similar conclusion. Ekirch believes in the value of segmented sleep and night watching, as "an ancient path to our psyche," Night watching sleep may instead be "a re-creation of the older sleep-wake-sleep pattern." I believe that this is the true meaning of the term, night watching, in our repertories.

Webster's Dictionary, 1913 edition states: Night watch.
(a) A period in the night, as distinguished by the change of watch.
(b) A watch, or guard, to afford protection in the night. Night watcher, one who watches in the night; especially, one who watches with evil designs.
Even this listing, early in the industrial age, shows a shift in emphasis for the term.

If we carefully read this comment from Homeopathic Recorder (Homeopathic Recorder, 4th quarter, 1934) relating to Causticum, we can see that night watching was not mentioned only in reference to the loss of sleep from caring for others.
"His anxiety, which may have its origin in loss of sleep, night watching, remorse, in a sense of being guilty of a crime and also after eating, is usually associated with fear, trembling and perspiration."
This mention seems to imply that the pathology was caused by lack of sleep from night watching, i.e. waking at night, which then created anxiety "as if guilty of a crime." Nursing or caring for others does not seem applicable to this state.

An article in US News and World Report states, "References as far back as Virgil and Homer called it "first sleep" and "second sleep." In between was an hour or two of quiet wakefulness that our ancestors sometimes called "the watch." It was a time to ponder dreams and plot wars."

I suggest that the term night watching in our repertories be reclassified as waking at night, and any references to wakefulness caused by nursing the sick be changed to a new rubric.
Viewing sleep from our post-industrial perspective, have forgotten or misinterpreted both the word and the concept of "night watching". We should be watchful for other phrases that might be similarly misinterpreted in our repertories.

By Melanie Grimes, RSHom, (NA), CCH

Categories: Theory
Keywords: waking at night, night watching, Rubin Naiman, A. Roger Ekirch, Thomas Wehr, Homeopathic Recorder


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Posts: 1
Reply #1 on : Fri March 02, 2007, 10:15:20
this is very interesting. I found a reference to night watching in carbo veg - lilienthal's Homeopathic therepeutics - bad effects from night watching and revelling . sounds like the 2 go together, night watching (being up in the middle of the night ) and revelling while up.
This is very interesting - when we read up symptoms we cannot assume anything, cannot interpret anything, just as we cannot assume and interpret what our patients say...
So the question is how do we find the exact meaning of symptoms quoted from 200 years ago??