Living Practices: Sleep

As promised, I said I’d include some of what I’ve been thinking about. One of my big areas of concern is how to live well and the specific techniques it takes to get there. Thinking aboutsleepstudy it in terms of specific techniques lends itself to wanting to enumerate the living practices of other cultures, but to my knowledge that hasn’t been done. And probably for good reason, because the sheer variety is mind-boggling and not easily characterized. But I think that if it’s broken up into more manageable sections, then it’ll not seem like such an awful project (and a wiki would probably be very helpful for this sort of thing). So I figure that the easiest place to start is with sleep, in part because it takes up most of our time (8.6 hours per day for the average American over age 15 in 2006 according to the American Time Use Survey) and in part because there’s only so much variation that there can be for it, since we’re effectively unconscious for most of it. I should note that night terrors, bed wetting, sleepwalking, and sleep talking are not included, nor is REM sleep or NREM sleep, because they’re not really cultural/living practices. I may include things that are effective remedies for night terrors or bed wetting or sleepwalking or whatever, but I’m just getting started with this, so please bear with me. Eventually, I’d like to include the effects of these things and the bounded circumstances under which they are good practices. For example, negative comments before bed are best used in places where you want to be kept alert. There’s a tribe in the Amazon that right before bed says: “Don’t sleep well, there are snakes,” because, well, there are snakes. You want to be sleeping lightly so you can wake up at the slightest provocation. And I hope that you can see how such a little innovation like this is (1) helpful and (2) troublesome for my project in how large it makes the sample space. Enough of my quibbling, on with it:

Structure of sleep:
pre-artificial light: first sleep, watch, and second sleep
artificial light era: straight ~8 hours
biphasic (siesta) and how this relates to circadian rhythms
watch (military)
12 hours on/12 hours off’s schedule
24 hours on/24 hours off’s schedule


Partners: animals, immediate family, extended family, spouses, their children, children of a certain age, children of specific gender, peers of a certain gender, friends, peers of equal social rank, or with no one at all.

Location: ground, skin/blanket, raised bed/platform, hammock, seated

Position: log, yearner, starfish, fetal, soldier freefall; duvet position; spooning/group position?

Head support/accesories: blankets, pillows, headrest, no head support, eye cover, ear plugs, pajamas (sleeping attire), sleeping naked

Dreaming: remembering/analyzing, priming for lucid dreams

Before bed rituals: cleaning, prayer, meditation, positive comments, negative comments (the “don’t sleep well, there are snakes”), eating, eating cheese, light massage

Drugs (effects of): alcohol, sleeping pills, barbiturates, melatonin, tryptophan, amphetamines, caffeine, cocaine, energy drinks, MDMA, methylphenidate, mustard oil; this is a complete mess and I’m not sure how I should characterize these…

Awakening: by sunshine, by human voice, by baby’s crying, by alarm, by radio

Yoga Nidra

And then a note on sleep hygiene: The areas of concern involve sleep scheduling, use of stimulants, stimulating or upsetting activities too close to bedtime, frequent use of the bed for activities other than sleep and an uncomfortable sleeping environment.

I’m obviously missing huge swathes of pre-sleep or post-sleep (and even mid-sleep) practices, so please leave me oversights in the comments section.



  1. kronos said

    I want to be there for the MDMA-starfish-children combo!!!

  2. harry said

    Proposed addendum:

    Structure of sleep: alternate 100 hours awake with 30 hours of sleeep

    Partners: strangers.

    Also – have you looked into lucid dreaming practices? A short intro here with various induction methods/rituals before sleeping:

  3. Jenny A said

    How appropriate to have come across your blog in the midst of insomnias.

    Here are some nice pre-bed rituals:
    chamomile tea

    and some nice morning rituals:
    dancing alone
    warm socks
    rolling over…and over again.

    I love my bed. On my way to it.

    Meanwhile there are meteorites in your cosmic sphere or something.

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