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I constantly here of stories of rabbis, in the olden days, who woke up at midnight, recited Tikkun Hatzot, and studied Torah until sunrise.

Was this the common practice of Jews of ancient times or was this something only the select few tzaddikim would do?

When did they sleep or was it more of a way to self sacrifice for achieving righteousness?

Also how did they manage with no lighting (since everyone was poor and not everyone could afford candles)?

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I have seen a very good article (possibly by Slifkin) that explains that in the days before candles became cheap and people's sleep cycles were defined by dusk and dawn, it was quite normal to wake up in the middle of the night and tikkun chatzos was less "out of the way".

I am still trying to find that article, but I have found a similar article that discusses this and more.

http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/files/elliot-horowitz-coffee-coffeehouses-and-the-nocturnal-rituals-of-early-modern-jewry.pdf

Update: found the other article. not by slifkin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/opinion/sunday/rethinking-sleep.html?src=me&ref=general&pagewanted=all&_r=0

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    the notion of first sleep and second sleep would accommodate Tikkun Chatzot nicely – rosends Jun 12 '14 at 17:14
  • In Igeret Haramba"m, he writes about how little sleep he got. It makes me wonder, sometimes, how much of his own physician's advice to others was something Ramb"m himself followe, esp. regarding sleep! – DanF Jun 12 '14 at 17:46
  • @danf ,he also ate very late in the day in one of hid letters to his Talmud explaining his rigorous schedule as a physician for the king,it was not by choice. – sam Jun 12 '14 at 17:53
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The Gemara at the top of BK 59b discusses being "great enough" to mourn Yerushalayim properly. Perhaps one could deduce from here that only the greatest of the generation would get up at midnight to do tikkun chatzos.

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