The first written record appears in 1861 in tales by Hans Christian Andersen.
In his short story "The Sandman," which appeared in a book called Die Nachtstücke (The Night Pieces), E.T.A. Hoffman wrote of the Sandman: Oh! he’s a wicked man, who comes to little children when they won’t go to bed and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes, so that they jump out of their heads all bloody; and he puts them in a bag and takes them to the half-moon as food for his little ones; and they sit there in the nest and have hooked beaks like owls, and they pick naughty little boys’ and girls’ eyes out with them. (Hoffman, E.T.A., "The Sandman." Fantastic Tales, ed. Italo Calvino, Random House, Inc., 1997, p. 37). Watch video above.
The Sandman has become a benevolent character in modern day folklore but this has not always been the case. He was traditionally seen as helping children to go to sleep by sprinkling magic dust in their eyes. It was said that he brought them happy dreams and upon waking the ‘sleep’ in the corner of their eyes would be the result of the sand/dust he had sprinkled on them.
However, there is another Sandman quiet different from the one who is now portrayed. This Sandman wears the skin of corpses, smelling of death and decay. He has long bony fingers that end in extremely sharp nails and his foul mouth is full of razor sharp fangs. Hiding in the shadows he whispers to his victim; Tic toc, tic toc” slowly lulling them to sleep. Once they have fell into a deep sleep the Sandman will leave the shadows and feed on the victim. There is absolutely no mention of this malignant sandman in folklore but due to peoples appetite for gore it quickly caught on. In Hans Christian Andersen original tale Ole Lukoje there are also two versions of the Sandman, one who brings sweet dreams, the other who brings the sleep of death.
Why some people feel it necessary to use bedtime stories to terrify children into obedient behaviour is quite beyond me but it seems to be prevalent across many tales.
Others mentioned in European folklore are TheDustman, Billy Winker or Wee Willie Winkie, Old Shut-eye and Nanny Button-Cap. These night time visitors are said to move from house to house making sure that children go to sleep. However, they are not restricted to children as some adults wake up in the mornings with ‘sleep’ in their eyes.
I will continue to look for information on this creature as requested (manbehindthecurtain). It is not really found in Irish folklore, nevertheless he is an interesting character.
Above video courtesy of youtube = The Sandman edited and directed by Paul Berry, 1992.
Keep smiling. Oh and by the way...Sweet dreams.