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    To Dream in Different Cultures


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    To Dream in Different Cultures

    Post  mudra on Thu May 15, 2014 3:49 pm

    To Dream in Different Cultures

    WHEN Doug Hollan arrived on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi for his anthropology dissertation fieldwork in a rice farming village, his Toraja neighbors wanted to take turns sleeping with him and his wife.

    The rural Toraja almost never sleep alone. They sleep in wood frame houses with little furniture and flimsy room dividers, and they sleep on the floor together in groups, sharing blankets and huddling close for warmth. And so the Toraja have “punctuated” sleep. They wake often as others turn and get up in the night, or when a child calls out or another adult can’t sleep and starts to chat. Mr. Hollan never heard anyone complain about this.

    Many years after he returned from Toraja, Mr. Hollan became a psychotherapist and opened a practice in Los Angeles. Most of his clients have voiced discomfort, at some point or another, with their sleep. They do so even though they have what you might imagine would be the perfect conditions to sleep soundly. They have private darkened rooms that they share with at most one person and, often, expensively manufactured beds that minimize disturbance to the other person when one gets up in the night. His clients want to make sure they get seven or eight hours of continuous sleep, and when they try to sleep but they can’t, they get upset.

    They are not alone. The National Sleep Foundation reports that more than one in five Americans has difficulty falling asleep almost every night, and a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that about 4 percent of adults in the United States had taken a prescription sleeping pill in the previous month. In 2012 Americans spent $32 billion in the sleep-assistance industry.

    This obsession with eight hours of continuous sleep is largely a creation of the electrified age. Back when night fell for, on average, half of each 24 hours, people slept in phases. In “At Day’s Close,” a remarkable history of night in the early modern West, Roger Ekirch writes that people fell asleep not long after dark for the “first sleep.” Then they awoke, somnolent but not asleep, often around midnight, when for a few hours they talked, read, prayed, had sex, brewed beer or burgled. Then they went back to sleep for a shorter period. Mr. Ekirch concludes, “There is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age, with a provenance as old as humankind.”

    In an era when we are trying to cram as much into a day as we can, Americans think about sleep as a biological function that needs to be managed. Mr. Hollan’s patients, he writes, think about sleep as a problem that interferes with more important things.

    I suggest that we are always asleep basically, and we navigate through the time of being so-called awake by various tactics.Accordingly,...

    What have we lost with our dismissal of what the writer George Sturt called the “quiet depths of darkness”? In traditional non-Western societies like the Toraja, what happens at night really matters. People pay close attention to their dreams, and because they are awakened more often, they have more opportunity to remember them. When the anthropologist Eduardo Kohn arrived in a small village deep in the Amazon, people slept largely outdoors in an open thatch house, surrounded by other people. They would wake at night to drink tea, because it was cold, or because of the calls of animals. “Thanks to these continuous disruptions,” he writes, “dreams spill into wakefulness and wakefulness into dreams in a way that entangles them both.”

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