Jan 6, 2008

How To Sleep Like a Hunter-Gatherer

What’s really going on inside your head when you sleep, dream, or are wide-awake? In his fascinating new book, The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness (Random House, $24.95), science writer Jeff Warren explores some familiar and some less familiar states of consciousness, everything from daydreams to lucid dreams. Warren talked to scientists and Buddhist monks, slept in sleep labs, and spent time in a secluded mountain cabin to experience firsthand various states of consciousness. Along the way, he discovered perception-shifting information about how people sleep in different cultures. Westerners prefer a quiet bedroom, sleeping alone or with a partner. Egyptians commonly sleep with several family members in the same room and, even in a noisy city like Cairo, with the windows wide open. In the excerpt below, Warren meets with one of the few anthropologists who study the culture of sleep. —Jane Bosveld .


When I flew down to Atlanta to interview Carol Worthman, the director of the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology at Emory University, she greeted me in her office, among the stacks of research monographs and the photos of her with beaming tribal groups from several continents. I asked why she had first thought to study sleep, and she smiled. “It was a true ‘aha’ experience. I was sitting in my office when a friend of mine who was studying mood disorders called me up and asked me what anthropologists knew about sleep.”
She laughed and paused for a moment of dramatic emphasis. “Nothing!” She widened her eyes behind the thick lenses. “We know nothing about sleep! I think of all the places I’ve slept around the world, all the groups I’ve studied. . . . I mean, here I was, part of this discipline dedicated to the study of human behavior and human diversity, and yet we knew next to nothing about a behavior that claimed one-third of our lives. I was stunned.”
So Worthman began to comb the literature, interviewing ethnographers, sifting through fifty-odd years of published work. What she found, she said, shouldn’t have surprised her: “The ecology of sleep is like the ecology of everyday life.” Sleep, it seems, comes in many cultural flavors.

1 comment:

  1. This was definitely NOT written by Ms Singh! Plagiarized! Shame!

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