Wednesday, August 5, 2009

To sleep perchance to dream

I have been thinking a bit about sleep. I never feel like I get enough of it. And sleep is very very good for you. Previously I have referred to the book Lights Out (here and here and here). Sufficient sleep - in the dark - is not only good for you it is what you were built to need. Rob Wolf puts it as the third most important need you have after air and water.

Usually it is my own fault for not going to bed early and I have tried to think of ways, hacks, to get me to go to bed before it is too late. One is the idea of an Electric Curfew - all electronic equipment turned off by 11:30 or whatever....but I never really built the habit. There are other tricks out there too...but I really need more sleep

Anyway I was reading different stuff about sleep and came across this article on Greg Laden's blog: An Evolutionary View of Humans 2: Sleep

There are some really interesting ideas there:

A typical night with the Efe is, I strongly suspect, typical of any night with any tropical or subtropical forager group. At any given moment in time, somebody is asleep and somebody is awake. Those who are awake are often talking. Sometimes they are talking to each other, but often they are just talking. Telling a story that someone may or may not be interested in. I suspect that part of the constant noise making (and what may make Africa different from Australia) is that you don’t want to be too quiet for too long else wandering dangerous animals …. a leopard, a suid, an elephant … may stumble into your camp and cause trouble.

The person or persons who is/are awake shifts throughout then night. It is not systematic … people are not really keeping watch … it just seems to happen. Individuals sleep when they are comfortable, and become uncomfortable as the fire cools, wake up, adjust the fire, and either stay up for a while or fall back to sleep. If one child is keeping his or her family awake, this affects the entire group. And so on.

Naps during the day (as you might expect since everybody gets a poor night’s sleep by Western standards every night) are common.

Here it is in a nutshell. The Efe, and I again suspect this is typical for foragers, spend the entire 24 hour cycle sometimes awake and sometimes asleep. During the night, “asleep” is more common than “awake” and during the day “awake” is more common than “asleep.” To foragers, it’s all napping.

One could criticize this description by pointing out how it conflicts with modern medical views of sleep. But you would be wrong. It is the case that modern medical views of sleep need to be adjusted to take into account the realties of what humans have probably always done for hundreds of thousands of years (since the first control of fire, perhaps).

Really interesting stuff. I wonder if that is why I liek to fall asleep with the radio on....the hear the voices chatting away as I drift off?

Difficult to work this into my job in the Council though!


Asclepius said...

I had a chat with Methuselah about a similar idea a while back. You are at your most vulnerable when asleep which makes you wonder what actually is a good nights sleep?

Is it 9 hours continuous sleeping or is it 9 hours resting with phases of 'moderate' awake interspersed with periods of deep sleep?

I know that if I sleep for a solid 8 or 9 hours, it is usually when I am ill or drunk. Conversely I can wake a few times throughout the night and wake up refreshed - partiularly when I have gone to bed early (2200hrs). Whether this is to do with the cumulative amounts of sleep or whether simply being in a dark environment has induced beneficial hormonal changes I don't know.

Chris said...

thanks Asclepius. I suppose that is what has puzzled me. We always hear of the need for lots of sleep...but as you say sleep is when you are vulnerable.

Perhaps this points to us living in tribes and looking out for each other a lot too.

The blog I pointed to also has an interesting piece on that. Traditionally we might only ever have known a couple of hundred people in our entire life. Now we can meet and interact with hundreds a week - at one extreme....yet we also live often isolated lives as singles or couples....

Marcia Dream said...

We're given mixed messages about the need for sleep. On the one hand, we're told that we don't get enough sleep. (Go to the pharmacy and buy some sleeping pills.) On the other, we know that as people age, their need for sleep decreases, and that depression is associated with increased sleep.

We’re told that people today are heavily sleep deprived. But people today (at least most people in Western countries) certainly have more leisure time, and time to sleep and relax, than people did 150 years ago. Most of us don’t spend 14 hour days, 6 days a week, working in factories in poor conditions.

Different people need different amounts of sleep. We also need sleep at different times, and at different frequencies. Some of us need long periods of sleep. Some of us need our sleep broken up into smaller chunks.

The idea that we all need the same amount of sleep, at the same times, is a way for medical practitioners to take natural differences between individuals and turn them into medical conditions that require treatment.

If you can function without falling asleep when you need to be awake (while driving, in the midst of a conversation, etc.), and your concentration and memory aren’t compromised, then you are getting enough sleep.

Chris said...

thanks Marcia

kieraninmotion said...

I actually find it really hard to sleep unless there is music on. I removed the stereo from our bedroom about a year ago and have been having a really hard time sleeping. Last week I plugger speakers into a postable cd player and drifted off like a baby, not even lasting the full album whereas previously I would be awake until 3 or 4! Even being awake and posting at half past 10 today is amazing since I was on a back shift last night until 2 and would usually have to sleep until about 11!

This was a really interesting post, thanks.