Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sleep Ain't What It Used to Be

Back in September I posted a paragraph from a NYTimes op-ed arguing that the 8-hour block IS NOT a 'natural' sleep pattern. It's culturally imposed. There's more where that came from:

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Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer. The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Jacket copy [boldface mine]:
Americans spend billions of dollars every year on drugs, therapy, and other remedies trying to get a good night’s sleep. Anxieties about not getting enough sleep and the impact of sleeplessness on productivity, health, and happiness pervade medical opinion, the workplace, and popular culture. In The Slumbering Masses, Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer addresses the phenomenon of sleep and sleeplessness in the United States, tracing the influence of medicine and industrial capitalism on the sleeping habits of Americans from the nineteenth century to the present. 
Before the introduction of factory shift work, Americans enjoyed a range of sleeping practices, most commonly two nightly periods of rest supplemented by daytime naps. The new sleeping regimen—eight uninterrupted hours of sleep at night—led to the pathologization of other ways of sleeping. Arguing that the current model of sleep is rooted not in biology but in industrial capitalism’s relentless need for productivity, The Slumbering Masses examines so-called Z-drugs that promote sleep, the use of both legal and illicit stimulants to combat sleepiness, and the contemporary politics of time. Wolf-Meyer concludes by exploring the extremes of sleep, from cases of perpetual sleeplessness and the sleepwalking defense in criminal courts to military experiments with ultra-short periods of sleep. 
Drawing on untapped archival sources and long-term ethnographic research with people who both experience and treat sleep abnormalities, Wolf-Meyer analyzes and sharply critiques how sleep and its supposed disorders are understood and treated. By recognizing the variety and limits of sleep, he contends, we can establish more flexible expectations about sleep and, ultimately, subvert the damage of sleep pathology and industrial control on our lives.


  1. As the old song goes only mad dogs and industrialists go out in the mid- day sun.

    I think what is a 'natural' sleep pattern may be dictated in part by what predators are lurking in the bushes and what hours they like to keep.

    Enviromental change certainly looks like it may be responsible for evolutunary switches in activity patterns.

    But preditors of one type or another have long imposed on primates causing cultural change in this way.

    i.e the moonlight singing of Lemur's

  2. Some years ago I read the neonates have a three=hour sleep/wake cycle, 90 minutes asleep, then 90 minutes awake. So i figure THAT's what then gets shaped into whatever sleep-wake conventions a culture wants to impose.

  3. By chance before reading the post was spending time starting on some related biological aspects (have a thing for apes and moonlight in narrative going on). Although still early days.

    Heat, light, competition seem to affect switches in activity patterns. Moonlight seems to be a factor in switch to night-time activity in primates. Activity rate decline in moonlight if temps are low.

    Biological thought does not appear to be a million miles away from early modern apelore on the subject.

  4. Apes and moonlight...a moonlight serenade?

  5. Number of seprate things.

    Apes and Moonlight. Old philosophical beleif that the ape like humanity is affected by the phases of the moon.

    But also have old folk tales like the ape and the firefly, where the ape ranging at moonlight and in need of heat mistakes the firefly as a source of fire (but then as later texts suggests the ape is like a Bedlum fool or lunatic).

    But with heat, light and moonlight, some bioligists make not dissimilar theoretical statements. Although part of the tale is droped in line with current audience expectations and beleifs on the effects of moonlight.

    Moonlight serenade.

    Press headline mixing up research on Lemurs.

    Ring taled lemurs seem to use lunar cycles heavily in regard to night activity (research was confined to observations made during breeding season). Resarch is ongoing with regard to mating and the moon.

    In south America 'serenade' it would appear to resolve a cryptic species issue among three species of nocternal mouse lemur (thought to be the same until genetic testing).

    Hypothisis is that species cohesiveness leds to divergence in signalling and recognition in order to aviod costs that come with hybridisation. i.e testing suggests distinct calls attract mates of the same species. Its the first evidence of this form of vocalisation in primates.