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Sleep is such a fundamental part of our lives that often we do not give it that much thought, it is simply part of the wallpaper. For example, have you ever thought about whether different cultures and peoples around the world and across time sleep like you or whether they have different sleep habits all together?
One of the world’s leading anthropologists hadn’t, which is unusual for someone who studies people. When asked what her discipline knew about the history of human sleeping, she realised that her subject didn’t know anything about this human habit that occupies a full third of our lives. She set about to rectify this, discovering that sleep is very much culturally rooted, that there is no one single way people do it.
Going back to the cavemen, she found that compared to western sleep, many peoples sleep in small blocks of sleep and often sleep in large groups to keep warm. Compared to modern sleep habits, where we are alone or in pairs and sleep in one large block of around 8 hours, the sleep habits were different back then.
Sleep is not a universal and monolithic entity but is culturally varied and can take a number of different forms.
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