How do you sleep?

January 18, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Tyler having a quick lie-downThis post is going to be about the gentle subject of sleep, but first I have to deal with all the Neo-Nazis who have emailed me following my post on Creeping Fascism. Little did I know that post would spark off such (often puzzling) responses. The emails clearly showed that these dudes hadn’t (a) read my post clearly; or (b) tracked back to the original article. If they had, they’d have realised that there was no suggestion that the US is Nazi Germany, but that the US displays some characteristics of fascism and invites one to explore whether fascist tendencies are taking hold in the US. And so no, I don’t wish to join the Neo-Nazis, thx very much for your invitation.

And to the 18-year old gamer who abused me from pillar to post – you did provide me with some good entertainment especially when you were so vehement in stating that Hitler was not a fascist. Well dude, you might need to go back over your high school texts because fascism is all about individual and social interests being subordinate to the interests of the state or party ie fascism is the antithesis of democracy and Nazism was a form of fascism. And yes, I did censor your comment (the first time I’ve ever done that on TS blog) and you might also like to pick up a dictionary to discover a world of words other than F***. It might help you to construct an argument and engage in debate instead of just being an immature brat.

Okay, that’s off my chest, on to today’s post. How do you sleep at night? I’m not referring to whether you get a good night’s kip but whether you sleep in a soft comfy bed. I must admit I enjoy my sleep and like nothing better than to be wrapped in a duck-down doona with my head resting on satin covered pillows.

Now, if you’ve ever thought about our hunter-gatherer ancestors, you’d know they couldn’t trot off to the local department store to get a king-sized bed to fit all the family members in! Our ancestors slept in sprawling huts or around a fire with older and younger generations entwined – multi generational heaps. The ecology of sleep is quite fascinating actually. In the West, we ensconce ourselves in beds, like a Queen on her throne. Some of us like mattresses that are almost as hard as a concrete slab, whilst others prefer a mattress into which you can gently sink as you waft off to sleep. Do you prefer therapeutic contour pillows or fluffy pillows? Egyptian cotton sheets or seductive black satin sheets? Are you a tummy sleeper, back sleeper or side sleeper? We sleep alone or with a partner.

But our ancestors and other contemporary cultures sleep in a sensorily rich environment. The ritual of going to sleep involved lots of chatter amongst young and old, hunters and wives. It involved stories being dramatically retold whilst fires were stoked to keep everyone warm or wild animals away. There was information exchange and social activity. Domestic animals were often a part of the chaos and confusion. Lots of people coughing, sneezing, snoring, procreating, arguing, laughing. There was context. You were confident in the knowledge that you were not alone and there was safety in numbers.

Western-style sleep, however, is decontextualised. Like Egyptian mummies, we individually wrap ourselves up in our cocoon of a bed. If you’re not in a committed relationship, then someone might fleetingly share your cocoon for a one-night stand. Married couples, tired from the daily grind of work, might give each other a quick peck on the cheek and a “good night dear”. It’s a controlled environment devoid of social clues and nuances. Our beds are solitary capsules, floating off the floor, leaving us alone in the dark in a room we call the ‘bedroom’. An isolated monk’s cell nestled within another cell, the bedroom.

By contrast, a number of cultures exist and sleep in one messy blur of kids, parents, grandparents and animals snoring collectively. The !Kung of the Kalahari desert, for example, sleep when they feel like it – not bound to the clock. Playing games, singing, lengthy discussions and arguments all occur against the backdrop of crashing together. They enjoy interrupted or polyphasic sleep. Western-style sleep (if you get a good night) is an uninterrupted, 8-hour norm.

The siesta of Mediterranean cultures is perhaps a continuation of polyphasic sleep. Using tiny sensors to detect REM sleep, anthropologists discovered that modern, urban Egyptians who nod off during siesta time get on average the same 8 hours that people in Western countries believe to be the healthy norm. But they obtain their sleep in two stages: 6 hours at night and 2 in the afternoon. Mmmm…wonder if the organisation I work for will introduce siesta time?! And apparently to this day, many Egyptians sleep with one or more family members in the same room with windows wide open to the loud, bustling traffic surging through the streets below. Don’t know about you, but I require minimal noise to waft off for a good night’s sleep. And a pitch-black room too. Although when out and about in nature, some bull frogs croaking deeply and rhythmically can definitely send me off.

So sleep is a cultural acquisition and is shaped by the cultural milieu in which we live and breathe. But seems to me that Western-style sleep has lost a lot of richness. What do you think?

Source & inspiration: Discover Magazine


Entry filed under: Reflections, Sleep, Society.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. dandjb  |  April 16, 2008 at 1:31 am

    I love my Egyptian Cotton Sheets for their super smooth luxurious feel and softness. They are the most comfortable sheets I have ever slept on and I would never go back to anything that wasn’t made with Egyptian Cotton. The best thing about them is they will last you for decades as they actually improve with age and washing.


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