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How primal cultures determine sleep requirements

16-04-2012

In the West we are preoccupied with time as measured in seconds, minutes and hours. These units help dictate our lives and they are how we gauge our sleeping and wakeful periods. In the West, we sleep in our single block of around 8 hours most nights of the year, as measured by the seconds, minutes and hours of our clocks. However, in other cultures, there are different ways of viewing time and different ways of gauging sleep requirements.

For example, in the Sudan the Nuer people, who herd cows, measure time according to their day’s work schedule, which changes depending on what their cows needs. When the calves are born, their days are longer and their sleep requirements drop, while in slower time periods of the year when the cows are grazing, the days are shorter and they sleep for longer.

The Eje people of the Congo do not all sleep at the same time and anthropologists studying them were interested to find that no matter the time of night, there was always some form of social activity going on. They found the idea that everyone would retire at around the same time at night and wake at the same time in the morning quite strange. Members of the tribe would retire when they were tired and get up when they awoke, which rarely happened in sync.


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